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Leptospirosis in Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that impacts major body systems in a dog and can be deadly if not caught early and treated quickly. The infection is zoonotic, which means it can be transferred to humans from animals, with children being especially susceptible. Use care and protective measures in caring for your dog to prevent the spread of the disease and seek veterinary attention once symptoms develop.

How Leptospirosis Manifests

Leptospirosis develops primarily in wet or tropical environments, particularly in swampy, marshy areas with slow-moving or still waters. Dogs can contract the disease through infected water or soil or by coming in contact with urine from an infected animal. Hunting dogs and farm dogs may be at higher risk than their indoor counterparts because of potential exposure opportunities. The bacteria enters the dog’s body through mucus membranes or open cuts, spreads through the bloodstream, enters tissues and reproduces in a dog’s reproductive and nervous systems, liver, kidneys and eyes.

Leptospirosis Symptoms

Symptoms of leptospirosis mimic many other diseases and include a fast onset of fever, stiff, sore muscles and an overall weakness. Your dog may shiver, cough, vomit or have diarrhea. You may observe a runny nose and swollen lymph nodes and mucus membranes. Female dogs may have a bloody vaginal discharge and you may notice red-flecked gums, signs of jaundice or a yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes. Your dog may find it difficult to eat or drink and can become dehydrated quickly. Prompt medical attention is vital, particularly if your dog has other health issues or a compromised immune system.

Diagnosing Leptospirosis

Your vet will conduct a complete physical and order blood and urine tests to check bacteria levels. He may perform tests to measure antibodies and check your dog’s immune system. You can help by providing a detailed account of your pet’s symptoms and recent whereabouts. This will help your vet make an accurate diagnosis, identify the body systems most likely affected and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

Leptospirosis Treatment Options

Treatment and prognosis vary based on the severity of your dog’s condition and the organ systems impacted. Your vet likely will prescribe an antibiotic such as tetracycline or fluoroquinolone. Antibiotic treatment can last a month or longer and may include side effects. Severely dehydrated dogs may require hospitalization and IV therapy, blood transfusion or even a feeding tube to ensure proper nutrition.

Prevent Spreading Leptospirosis

Prevent the spread of leptospirosis by vaccinating your dog to protect against initial infection. If your dog contracts the disease, prevent its spread by quarantining your dog from children and other household pets during the course of his treatment. Clean areas where your dog may have deposited bodily fluids to prevent the spread of the infection. Always wear an apron and gloves when handling your dog, his feces or urine.