Summertime adventures with your favorite four-legged companion often include outdoor hikes  and dog park visits. Like people, your pets may require specialized supplies such as a pack to carry their portable water bowl, toys, and snacks to ensure they are hydrated and properly fueled for the day’s fun. Although it may be tempting to allow your pet to take a dip in a bubbling creek or investigate the taste from an interesting puddle, it’s critical to first ensure they are protected from dangerous infectious diseases, and vaccinations are the safest, most effective way to do that. Your veterinarian also may recommend a non-core vaccination against leptospirosis, which is a common, and potentially deadly, zoonotic disease. Our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team wants to ensure you and your pets are protected during all of your adventures, and we have the answers to some common leptospirosis questions, as well as ways to ensure your furry pal is protected. 

What is leptospirosis in pets?

Leptospirosis is a serious, life-threatening, and zoonotic blood infection caused by spiral-shaped bacteria, or spirochetes. These bacteria are widespread in Waterloo and throughout Ontario, and may be present in any slow-moving or standing water, such as a pond or a puddle after a rainstorm. However, the bacteria also can survive for months in the soil after the water has cleared. Multiple species of these infectious bacteria exist, but only some cause illness in pets. Dogs serve as the primary host for the bacteria, although many other mammalian species, including humans, can be infected. Leptospirosis is rarely found in cats, and little is understood about how it affects them. The spirochete bacteria are primarily spread through contact with infected urine, and wildlife, such as raccoons or rats, are the most common sources of infection. Common ways your pet may become infected include:

  • Contracting the disease while still in their mother’s womb
  • Drinking from a contaminated puddle, lake, pond, or creek
  • Licking, sniffing, or ingesting contaminated soil, dirt, or vegetation
  • Swimming or stepping in contaminated water with cut paws or irritated skin
  • Suffering a bite wound from an infected animal
  • Eating infected tissue

What are leptospirosis signs and treatment in pets?

Once a pet becomes infected, leptospirosis spreads quickly through their bloodstream; however, it may take a week before any disease signs are present. Leptospirosis can affect any organ system, and more than 87 percent of infected dogs will have some form of kidney damage. The disease signs vary depending on the severity of the infection and the strength of a pet’s immune system. However, dogs who experience a severe infection may succumb before kidney disease signs occur. Leptospirosis signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, which may contain blood
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased, decreased, or absent urination
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle stiffness and pain 
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Yellowing skin (i.e., jaundice)
  • Tissue edema
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cloudy eyes

Have your pet examined by your veterinarian if you suspect they have been infected with leptospirosis. Disease signs may be similar to other infectious diseases, so blood and urine diagnostic tests to check for underlying problems may be recommended. Fortunately, this infection is extremely responsive to antibiotic therapy. Pets who are diagnosed with leptospirosis will require antibiotics for at least two weeks, and will likely need follow-up appointments to monitor for any long-term organ damage. 

If your dog has severe disease signs, hospitalization for supportive care, such as intravenous fluids and pain management, may be required. In some cases, pets with a severe illness may have lifelong liver, kidney, and immune system problems that will require regular veterinary care and medical management. Pet owners must take precautions and wear gloves when caring for an infected pet to prevent the disease from spreading to them. Pets who are diagnosed may shed the bacteria in their urine for several weeks, and regular veterinary checkups are critical so that your veterinarian can advise you when the infection has been cleared from your dog’s system.

How is leptospirosis prevented in pets?

Vaccination against the four most common leptospirosis species is the most effective way to prevent severe illness in your dog, and will decrease the chances of disease spread to people and other pets. In fact, at Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital, there is no additional fee for a leptospirosis vaccination. We want to ensure your dog and family are protected, so it is included in our core vaccine package. However, pets who are vaccinated may still be able to spread leptospirosis bacteria, so it’s critical to use caution when you and your pet are around areas with standing water or wildlife. Other prevention tips include:

  • Controlling rodents and other wildlife around your home and immediate environment
  • Removing any standing water around your yard
  • Ensuring your dog does not eat wildlife 
  • Keeping your dog from swimming in lakes, ponds, or creeks around heavily wooded areas
  • Designating a specific location for your dog to eliminate while they are undergoing treatment, and disposing of urine-soaked soil or sand 
  • Disinfecting any areas where your dog has vomited or urinated with bleach 

Call our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital office if you have any leptospirosis questions, or to schedule your dog’s free vaccination.