Leptospirosis (aka lepto) is a bacterial disease that is often life threatening. The bacteria are shed in the urine of infected animals, including wildlife, and so most commonly affect animals that spend a lot of time outdoors. It is of most concern to dogs, but rarely affects cats as well. Leptospirosis is zoonotic, meaning that it can infect people as well.
Once it has been shed in the urine, the bacteria then live in small bodies of water, puddles, and even in the soil. Pets and people are infected by coming in contact with the bacteria, which enter the body through cuts or abrasions in skin or through mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). This also includes drinking the water. Signs of illness usually occur within a few days, and can include fever, sore muscles, stiffness, weakness, anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, difficult breathing, coughing, and dehydration. If left untreated, leptospirosis can cause kidney and liver failure.
Diagnosis involves specific blood tests. Basic bloodwork is usually performed as is the case for any sick pet. If leptospirosis is suspected, then specific antibody tests for leptospirosis can be done. These tests have to be repeated 3 weeks later. If we do suspect leptospirosis, we immediately start treatment. Treatment involves intensive supportive care and antibiotics.
The good news is that a vaccine is available. The vaccination protects against the most common types of leptospirosis, but does not cover others, so is not 100%. After the initial vaccination, a booster is required in 3 weeks, and then yearly. We recommend vaccinating animals that are at high risk for this type of exposure, including any dogs that go camping, go to the lake, spend a lot of time in the country, and hunting dogs. If you live in an area that has a lot of wildlife, and your dog goes outdoors at all, then there is even a risk of infection for him as well. Ask us about leptospirosis at your next visit.
For more information, the CDC has an information sheet that can be found here. To schedule your dog for a vaccination, please call us at (913) 764-1415. Together, we will work towards keeping your pet as healthy as possible for as long as possible.