Owners of mud-puppies beware! There’s more than just dirt hiding in those puddles. More specifically bacteria, like the ones that cause leptospirosis, are an invisible threat that all dog owners should be aware of.
What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis (also known as lepto) is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that primarily damages the kidneys and occasionally the liver. Areas like trails and dog parks that may be contaminated by urine from wildlife (i.e., mainly raccoons and rodents) pose the greatest risk to dogs. The bacteria can enter a dog’s body through their eyes, nose, mouth, or cuts in the skin. In fact, even skin compromised by being wet for extended periods of time, like while swimming, can offer entry to these dangerous bacteria.
How likely is it that my dog can be infected?
Leptospirosis is found worldwide with most cases occurring during wet and mild weather. This is because the bacteria can survive for extended periods of time in this type of environment. Canine infections are increasingly common, possibly because of the expanding skunk, rodent, and raccoon populations in urban areas. Leptospirosis is common throughout southern Ontario and not a disease to be taken lightly.
Not just a dog problem!
Humans can get leptospirosis the same way dogs can. In fact, we can be exposed to the bacteria from our own dogs! Pet rodents and cattle are also susceptible to infection. Your best means of protection is to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet or cleaning up urine or fecal material (preferably using gloves).
What happens to my dog when they have leptospirosis?
Clinical signs (symptoms) of leptospirosis can vary from mild to severe depending on the number of bacteria and the immune health of your dog to the bacteria.
- Typical infections result in kidney and/or liver failure
- Vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, increased drinking and urination or no urination are common symptoms.
- Dog may have yellow gums or sclera (whites of the eyes).
- Some dogs will experience inflammation in the eyes (uveitis) that causes squinting.
- Extremely severe infections cause spontaneous bleeding, shock and even death.
- If you see any of these, contact a veterinarian right away
Leptospirosis is almost always serious and requires hospitalization and 24-hour care to improve a dog’s chance of recovery.
How will my veterinarian test for leptospirosis?
After examining your pet, we will recommend routine lab tests. If your dog has leptospirosis, some findings on lab work may include:
- Anemia (decreased red blood cell count)
- Elevated white blood cell count
- Elevated platelets
- Increased kidney values with or without increased liver enzymes
- Dilute urine
- Other urine abnormalities including excess protein, glucose, and casts
At this point, to confirm a diagnosis, we will recommend advanced testing specifically for leptospirosis.
How is leptospirosis treated?
Depending on the severity of disease, your dog may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and supportive care for 24-72 hours or more. Our veterinarians will recommend repeating some blood and urine tests at certain intervals to ensure your dog is responding to the treatment.
How can I prevent my dog from getting leptospirosis?
Avoiding all exposure to leptospirosis-causing bacteria is difficult if not impossible. Your best chance of reducing your dog’s risk of leptospirosis is to vaccinate them.
Our veterinary team is happy to discuss any concerns you have about leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis: An Update (SA245), Western Veterinary Conference 2020 Catherine Langston, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM) College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University Columbus, OH, USA
LifeLearn Handout: Leptospirosis in dogs