Leptospirosis has gotten some press lately, for good reason. This bacterial infection can cause many issues, including liver and kidney damage, be passed along to humans, and may be deadly.
What is it?
Leptospirosis is a spiral shaped bacteria that lives in water and the urine and tissues of infected animals.
How do animals contract this bacterium?
Infection is passed along by the exposure to urine of infected animals, which leaches into the waterways or soil. Leptospirosis may live in water or soil for weeks to months. Animals may ingest leptospirosis directly from water, from small abrasions/cuts on the skin, or by ingesting the bacteria by grooming. Indiana is considered an endemic area for leptospirosis, meaning the risk is high for exposure. Most cases occur in the summer months. Dogs are more commonly affected; the infection in cats is usually mild and self-limiting.
What happens if my pet contracts leptospirosis?
Younger animals are more affected than older animals. The initial stages may appear like many other infections, including fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, weakness, and muscle pain. After the initial stages, Leptospirosis begins replication in the kidneys if the body is unable to fight the initial infection. Renal failure occurs rapidly in 90% of affected dogs, and 10-20% also develop liver failure. Leptospirosis may also cause cardiac failure, abortion, and stillbirth during acute infection. Chronic infections may also occur, with these animals continually excreting the bacteria.
How is Leptospirosis treated?
When treated early and aggressively the chance of recovery is high. If the animal is vaccinated and/or the immune response is enough, the body can fight the infection. The bacteria is susceptible to antibiotics, but we may not be able to reverse kidney and liver damage.
Is there prevention?
Vaccination for leptospirosis is recommended yearly for dogs at risk. It is important to discuss the risk factors for your dog with your veterinarian at their semi-annual appointment.