In the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) fact sheet below, we aim to answer all of your questions about leptospirosis and how it can affect your dog’s life.
The first thing to remember about leptospirosis is that it’s not a discriminating disease. It can affect all animals, and even humans, in the right circumstances. In recent years, leptospirosis has seen an uptick in cases. Whereas before, it was a fairly rare diagnosis for most animals, more and more vets have been uncovering leptospirosis cases recently. Below, you can find a comprehensive guide on how leptospirosis manifests, and how you can protect yourself and your pets.
How does infection occur?
Leptospirosis is caused by a certain type of bacteria, which can be found in the urine of an infected animal. You or your pets can either become infected through direct contact or indirect exposure. Since the bacteria can survive for weeks at a time in soil or water, it’s not that difficult to get exposed. Direct contact with open (cut) skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) can also lead to infection.
If your dog is infected, it’s most likely he either came into direct contact with infected wildlife (e.g. raccoons, opossums, deer, skunks, squirrels, etc.) or swam or drank infected water. Infected animals continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment for years after infection.
Signs of leptospirosis
What makes leptospirosis difficult to spot and diagnose is that it’s a volatile disease. Sometimes, you might not see any symptoms on an infected animal, while other times, the symptoms can vary wildly and be inconclusive.
Common symptoms reported in dogs include:
- Abdominal pain;
- Refusing to eat;
- Serious muscle pain;
- Weakness and depression;
- Inability to have pups.
If your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it would be wise to contact your vet immediately, to ensure a quick and accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that leptospirosis generally affects younger animals worse than older ones.
Treatment of leptospirosis
Of course, once the leptospirosis diagnosis has been made, it will be up to your doctor to determine the right course of action. You may also need to be tested, depending on the nature of contact with your dog. While transmission from pet to owner is rare, it’s not unheard of. Common activities that put you at risk include:
- Direct contact with the urine or feces of the infected pet (as well as with blood or tissue);
- Assisting the birthing process of an infected animal.
Inform your vet if you have engaged in any of the above activities that may have put you at risk of infection with leptospirosis. Of course, you will also want to contact a doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms yourself. Keep an eye on yourself, and look for any symptoms of discomfort within the next three weeks after exposure to the disease. Contact your physician immediately, if any occur.
In both animals and human beings, leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics. As with many diseases, the sooner you treat leptospirosis, the easier it is to reverse. Generally, if we begin a course of antibiotics early, the animal will recover quickly, without major damage to the organs.
However, if the disease isn’t caught early, more serious treatment courses, such as dialysis or hydration therapy, may be needed.
Keep in mind that some time will pass between exposure itself, and the appearance of the first symptoms. Usually, between 5 and 14 days will pass between exposure and the presence of infection, while in rare cases, the wait time can range from a couple of days all the way to 30.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent infection in your pets. Since infection often occurs after exposure to wildlife (particularly rodents), it may be prudent to implement active wildlife control and prevention measures.
Getting your pet vaccinated against leptospirosis can also provide some protection, though not 100%, due to the many strains and variants of the disease. Even if your pet becomes infected, it’s important to inoculate them again, since the infection will only protect against that specific strain.
As for yourself, keep in mind that leptospires (the bacteria causing leptospirosis) can be present in your dog’s urine/feces for months, and even years, after infection. So avoid direct contact with your dog’s feces, urine, blood, or tissue, in case of a positive diagnosis.
If coming into contact with such materials, make sure you wear protective gear, such as gloves. Use antibacterial substances to clean surfaces that may have come into contact with the infected animal, and always wash your hands after handling your pet.
And of course, follow the treatment course laid out by your vet, and do take the infected dog for a check-up.