The risk of leptospirosis is increasing due to flooding. Higher than normal spring rains are also a factor. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause serious illness in dogs, other animals and people. It is caused by bacteria called leptospires which live in water and wet soil. Leptospirosis causes flu-like symptoms and can progress into a severe illness that is sometimes life threatening.
The most common way dogs become infected with leptospirosis is through contact with the urine of infected animals. When dogs swim or drink in contaminated water, they are at risk of becoming infected. The bacteria enter through a dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth or a cut or scratch on their skin. Should the infection reach the kidneys and bladder, the dog may become a carrier who spreads the bacteria every time he urinates.
Early signs of leptospirosis usually occur about a week after becoming infected and include fever, muscle weakness, and a loss of appetite or energy. Other signs include jaundice and blood in the urine. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur resulting in dehydration. This is an indication the kidneys are affected and requires immediate care by a veterinarian.
Leptospirosis can be quite serious. More than 80% of dogs who test positive for leptospirosis will develop serious kidney problems. Most dogs get better with prompt medical attention, however the condition can be fatal in dogs with severe liver or kidney damage. Dogs that recover may be at high risk for chronic kidney disease and could become carriers who spread the bacteria each time they urinate.
Since leptospirosis affects many areas of the body and causes a variety of symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose without a blood or urine test. Dogs who test positive for leptospirosis are treated with intravenous antibiotics, fluids, good nutrition and supportive care. Those dogs diagnosed early generally recover within two weeks. Oral antibiotics may be appropriate to ensure the infection is gone as well as to increase the likelihood the dog does not become a carrier.
If your dog is positive for leptospirosis, it is necessary to take preventive measures because it can spread to humans. Use rubber gloves when handling your dog’s urine and while disinfecting their bedding, housing and surrounding areas.
Lower your dog’s chances of becoming infected with leptospirosis by limiting their exposure to potential sources of contamination. Potential sources include wetland areas such as lakes, rivers, streams, drainage ditches or any area with slow moving or stagnant water; woodlands or parks where wildlife can be found; and areas that experience heavy rainfall or frequent flooding. If your dog has exposure to any of these, they are at a higher risk of infection. The best way to protect your pet is with a vaccination against leptospirosis. Vaccines are available to protect against the four most common types of leptospires.
In order to protect your dog and family from leptospirosis, keep your pet away from any area where there is standing water. Don’t allow your dog to swim or play in water that is accessed by wildlife. Keep rodents under control. Pay attention to any changes in your dog’s behavior or health. If you notice any signs of possible infection, immediately contact your veterinarian. If you would like to know if your dog would benefit from a vaccination against leptospirosis, talk to your veterinarian.
For more information about leptospirosis visit cdc.gov/leptospirosis.