An older dog laying on the ground, dozingLeptospirosis. Even the name sounds exotic and scary. Yet, canine leptospirosis, a serious bacterial disease that is transmitted through infected wildlife and water and soil, is becoming quite common. Some of you may have heard of the illness or perhaps have had your dog vaccinated against it by the Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center.

Leptosporosi, or lepto, is found in a number of species, including raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and even humans. Because the infection can be spread through urban-adapted wildlife, such as raccoons, many more cases of the disease are showing up in dogs who reside in cities.

Because of the potential severity of the disease, it is important to understand how the infection is transmitted, the likelihood of exposure, and steps to prevention.

Canine Leptospirosis Explained

The organism that causes leptospirosis in canines belongs to a family of organisms called spirochetes, a group that also contains the better known Lyme disease. The hosts (rats, raccoons, etc.) or carriers of this commonly found bacteria proliferate the bacteria through intermittent shedding (generally through their urine).

As many dog owners know, our curious canines love to snarffle the ground or splash around (and drink) lake, pond, and other forms of standing water. Because of this, dogs who spend a lot of time in areas with wildlife and standing water (even puddles or spots where rain runoff collects) are at increased risk.

It’s important to note that cats can also develop leptospirosis, yet rarely do so. To date, a vaccine has only been developed for canines.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Canine leptospirosis doesn’t always present visible symptoms in dogs, while some dogs experience immediate, severe symptoms. Because of the wide range of responses to the infection, relying on symptoms alone for detection (as opposed to prevention) is risky.

When left untreated, lepto can cause long term liver and kidney damage among other more life threatening conditions. The impact of infection is more severe in unvaccinated dogs under the age of six months.

When symptoms do manifest, they often include the following:

  • Fever
  • Increased thirst
  • More frequent urination
  • Muscle pain
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Unfortunately, the possible damage to the liver and kidneys is what makes this disease so risky. That is why early detection and treatment are so important to a better outcome and reduced risk of long-term organ damage.

Treatment and Prevention

If your dog has exhibited symptoms of lepto, we recommend he be seen right away. Treatment generally entails a combination of supportive care and antibiotics, along with monitoring kidney and liver function.

Considering the extensive and potentially devastating effects of canine lepto, the Pet Experts and Elmhurst Animal Care Center recommend the leptospirosis vaccine for most canines. It is especially recommended for dogs who spend a lot of time around bodies of water, as well as in rural or natural areas.

In addition to the 12-month vaccine, we also offer two breakthrough, highly effective new tests. These are ELISA, an antibodies-measuring lepto test that produces more accurate results than standard titer testing, as well as SDMA, which measures kidney function in cats and dogs (and is useful for all conditions that impact kidney health).

To learn more about your options to keep your pet safe from leptospirosis, please contact your friends, the Pet Experts, to set up an appointment.