Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with a kind of bacteria called Leptospira.
Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure and liver failure, and occasionally severe lung disease and bleeding disorders. The clinical signs of Leptospira infection vary considerably from no signs of infection, to just a mild illness of short duration from which the animal recovers quickly on their own, to severe disease and even death.
Which animals are affected?
With regard to companion animals, dogs are most susceptible to developing leptospirosis but generally infection is rare. Cats and other animals can also be affected, including humans. Outbreaks in some piggeries and cattle herds, particularly dairy, may occur in unvaccinated animals.
Small mammals such as rodents are often carriers and shed the bacteria in their urine.
How are dogs infected?
Your dog can become infected and potentially develop leptospirosis if:
- Their mucous membranes (i.e. lips, tongue, gums, inside of the eyelids) or any broken skin (i.e. a wound) comes into contact with infected urine or something that is contaminated by infected urine (for example, soil, water, food).
- They eat tissue from an animal or carcass that is infected.
- They are bitten by an animal that is infected.
- Rarely, through breeding or if a pregnant female passes the infection through the placenta to her puppies.
Exposure to Leptospira bacteria is more of a risk if your dog;
- is exposed to slow-moving or stagnant water (for example, drinking or swimming in waterways)
- comes into contact with rodents, farm animals (particularly pigs or cattle) or other dogs that may be infected
- is in an area with a warm climate and lots of rain (as Leptospira bacteria are more common in these areas)
What are the clinical signs of leptospirosis?
Signs of leptospirosis may include:
- Sore muscles and a reluctance to move
- Increased drinking
- Increased or decreased frequency or amount of urination
- Jaundice (where the skin and mucous membranes become yellow in colour)
- Eye inflammation
- Difficulty breathing
- Bleeding (including blood in vomit or faeces, saliva, bleeding from the nose and small red spots on mucous membranes or pale skin from bleeding)
- Fluid accumulation causing swollen legs, distended abdomen or restricted ability to breathe
If your dog is lethargic, depressed, not eating, vomiting, feverish, has increased thirst and urination, and/or is jaundiced take them to the vet immediately.
If you have any concerns about your pet please contact your vet as soon as possible. Leptospirosis can be treated, usually with antibiotics and supportive care. The chance of recovery depends on how severely the dog s affected, and how quickly they receive veterinary treatment.
What can be done to prevent Leptospirosis?
There are vaccines available that can effectively prevent leptospirosis. Dogs who are considered at risk should be vaccinated yearly. Please contact your veterinarian to ask about the situation in your area, the risk to your dog, and if your dog should be vaccinated.
You can also reduce your dog’s risk of infection by minimising your dog’s potential exposure to Leptospira bacteria. Avoid your dog drinking from or swimming in waterways that pose a potential risk (such as rivers, lakes, ponds, marshy areas, slow-moving or stagnant water) and minimise their contact with potentially infected animals such as farm animals and rodents, including making sure that they do not eat carcasses.
If you have questions about leptospirosis in people, please consult your doctor.