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Leptospirosis in Dogs

  • Written by Submitted by Sno-Wood Animal Hospital.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of dogs and other mammals that primarily affects the liver or kidneys. Leptospires are known as “aquatic spirochetes.” The organism thrives in water and they have a helical or spiral shape with a characteristic hook on one or both ends. There are many species and serovars of leptospira, some of which cause disease in dogs. There is no evidence that Leptospirosis causes clinical disease in cats.

How common is leptospirosis?

Infections of dogs with L. icterohemorrhagiae and L. canicola are uncommon in areas where widespread vaccination of dogs is routine.

How are dogs infected?

Leptospira bacteria are carried mainly by rats and other rodents, but can also be carried by almost any mammalian species, including people. Infected or recovered “carrier” dogs may act as a source of the infection.

What are the signs of leptospirosis?

Many leptospira infections go undetected, but other cases can be life-threatening. There are three main forms of the disease:

1.  Hemorrhagic (bleeding)

2.  Icteric or jaundice (liver)

3.  Renal (kidney)

How is leptospirosis diagnosed?

Because the clinical signs are variable and easily confused with other diseases, definitive diagnosis can be difficult. There are no readily available rapid and definitive laboratory tests. Taking blood samples during infection and again in the recovery period and showing an increase in antibodies to leptospira in the blood serum (at least a four-fold increase in antibody titer) is supportive of the diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

Antibiotics such as penicillin, ampicillin and amoxicillin are reasonably effective if begun early. Most affected dogs require intensive care in the veterinary hospital.

How can leptospirosis be prevented?

The vaccine for lepto-spirosis is not always part of the routine vaccination program for all dogs. Your veterinarian will consider the risks and options for your pet.

NOTE: Leptospirosis can be transmitted to people, so owners of dogs that may have the disease should avoid contact between the owner’s bare skin and their dog’s urine, and wear rubber gloves when cleaning up any areas the dog may have soiled. The organism is readily killed by household disinfectants or a dilute bleach solution

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