The risk of leptospirosis is increasing due to flooding and higher than normal spring rains. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause serious illness in dogs, other animals and people. Caused by bacteria found in water and wet soil, it causes flu-like symptoms which can progress into a severe illness that can be life threatening.
Dogs can become infected with leptospirosis through contact with the urine of infected animals. This occurs when dogs swim or drink in contaminated water from infected urine. The bacteria enters through a dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth or a cut or scratch on their skin. If the infection reaches the kidneys and bladder, then the dog is a carrier who spreads the bacteria each time he urinates.
Early signs of leptospirosis include fever, muscle weakness, and a loss of appetite or lethargy. Signs of jaundice including yellow eyes or skin is also possible. Blood may be present in their urine. After a few days, vomiting and diarrhea may occur resulting in dehydration. This is an indication the kidneys are affected and immediate care by a veterinarian is necessary.
Leptospirosis is a serious condition. More than 80% of dogs positive for leptospirosis develop serious problems involving their kidneys. While most dogs get better with prompt medical attention, the condition can be fatal in dogs who suffer severe liver or kidney damage. Those dogs that recover may continue to be at risk for chronic kidney disease or become carriers spreading the bacteria when urinating.
Because leptospirosis affects many areas of the body and causes a wide variety of symptoms, a blood or urine test is necessary to diagnose the infection. If a dog tests positive for leptospirosis, the standard treatment includes intravenous antibiotics, fluids, good nutrition and supportive care. Dogs diagnosed early generally recover within two weeks. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed as well to ensure the infection is gone and to prevent becoming a carrier.
Measures must be taken to protect yourself and family from becoming infected, if your dog is positive for leptospirosis. It can spread from dogs to humans. Rubber gloves should be worn when handling your dog’s urine and disinfecting their bedding, housing and surrounding areas.
It is important to take steps to lower the risk of your dog becoming infected with leptospirosis by limiting exposure to areas at risk of being contaminated. These include wetland areas such as lakes, rivers, streams, drainage ditches or any area with slow moving or stagnant water; woodlands or parks where wildlife can be found; and areas that experience heavy rainfall or frequent flooding. If your dog is exposed to any of these, they may have a higher risk of infection and benefit from vaccination against leptospirosis.
In order to protect your dog and family from this potentially harmful, sometimes fatal infectious disease, we suggest keeping your dog away from any area where there is standing water. Don’t let your dog swim or play in water sources that are accessed by wild animals. Keep rodents under control. Be mindful of any changes in your dog’s behavior or health. If you notice any signs of possible infection, contact your veterinarian immediately. Finally, talk to your veterinarian about whether your dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis.
For more information about leptospirosis visit cdc.gov/leptospirosis.