Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria that typically infects dogs but can easily be transmitted to their owners and other family members. Our Alpharetta vets are here to discuss leptospirosis in dogs, the symptoms and how you can help protect your dog from this disease.
Leptospirosis in Dogs
Leptospirosis is a disease that can harm your dog, farm animals, and even your family's health. It occurs when a bacterium known as Leptospira (found in water and soil all over the world) contaminates a substance through contact with urine. We've also seen cases of leptospirosis in cats, which feed on host animals like rodents.
This type of bacteria and disease is most commonly found in warmer climates with more rain. According to research, the disease has gradually spread into the Western United States, including Colorado, Utah, and Arizona but can be found in all areas of the US.
Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, it can be transmitted from animals to humans. People can contract leptospirosis from contaminated water sources, wild animals, livestock, and other pets, just like pets. The majority of leptospirosis outbreaks in humans are caused by contact with contaminated water.
How is leptospirosis transmitted?
Every pet is at risk of catching leptospirosis, regardless of where they live in the world (urban, suburban or rural areas). The following factors can increase your pet's risk:
- Exposure to wild animals or farm animal species that may pass infected urine, even in your backyard
- Exposure to or drinking from streams, lakes, rivers, or puddles
- Contact with rodents, such as squirrels or rats, or other dogs (such as in dog parks, facilities where multiple dogs are housed, or urban areas)
The most common symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs
Leptospirosis symptoms in dogs include:
- Shivering or fever
- Increased drinking and/or urination
- Decreased appetite or not eating
- Conjunctivitis (red eye)
- Inability to have puppies
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing or coughing)
- Muscle pain, stiffness, or reluctance to move
How is leptospirosis in dogs diagnosed?
Microscopic Agglutination Test: This is the gold standard for diagnosing leptospirosis, and it detects the presence of antibodies against Leptospira in the dog's blood. Infection is confirmed if the level of antibodies (called a "titer") is high enough.
How is leptospirosis in dogs treated and prevented?
As with many other diseases, preventing leptospirosis is far more beneficial than treating it. If your dog hasn't been immunized against this disease, consult with your veterinarian to see if it's a good idea for your dog's lifestyle.
The chance of a dog surviving leptospirosis, if the disease is found early enough, is around 80%. However, their kidney and liver function can be severely impaired. Thus, it's always best to prevent the disease with vaccination.
Our vets in Alpharetta offer the leptospirosis dog vaccine between 10 and 12 weeks of age as part of our vaccine schedule for dogs. After their primary leptospirosis vaccination, they will require a booster shot three to four weeks later. Beyond that, annual vaccines will be required to protect your dog throughout its lifetime.
Because leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans, if you suspect your dog is infected, avoid touching their urine with your bare skin and always wash your hands after petting them. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning any areas that your dog may have soiled, and disinfect any areas where your dog has urinated. Using a diluted bleach solution or a household disinfectant is one of the best ways to disinfect your home.
Leptospirosis can be treated with prescription antibiotics, which can also prevent other members of your household from becoming infected.