The Lowdown on Leptospirosis

Charlie and Penny - Lepto

Photo courtesy of Megan VanParis

Recently in the Chicagoland area news, there has been some talk about Leptospirosis (Lepto for short) and your dog. Lepto is a zoonotic disease, which means it can transmit from animals to humans. Lepto is caused by an infection with the Leptospira bacteria. There are many strains that can be found all over the world in soil and water.

Dogs contract Lepto if their mucous membranes come in contact with infected urine, whether that be through soil, water, food, bedding or a bite directly from an infected animal. In rare cases, it can be passed on from the placenta from the mother dog to her pups. This means, dogs can become infected with Lepto just by drinking from a community water dish!

Some dogs who are infected with Lepto will show no symptoms, some may display mild signs but then recover, while others become seriously ill and in severe cases could be fatal. Per the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), symptoms of Lepto include “fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes), or painful inflammation within the eyes.” Lepto can cause kidney failure and sometimes liver failure, too. These signs can develop anywhere from two to 12 days after your dog has been exposed to Lepto. Because many of these signs can be attributed to other diseases and conditions, based on your dog’s exposure risk and signs, your veterinarian here at Blum Animal Hospital may recommend other diagnostics to be performed such as blood work, urine tests, x-rays or ultrasound.

Lepto is usually treated with antibiotics for about two to three weeks. In more severe cases, hospitalization to administer fluids and other supportive care such as IV fluids may be necessary. Within 24 hours of starting antibiotics, the risk to humans is dramatically reduced. However, remembering to take necessary precautions during treatment is key – such as avoiding contact with their urine, washing your hands after handling your pup, and wearing gloves and using disinfectant to clean any urine if your dog has an accident in the house.

Since Chicago has now become the most rat-infested city in the United States, we recommend vaccinating your dog to improve protection. Blum offers a yearly vaccine that is effective in preventing your dog from contracting Lepto. We also recommend not letting your dog drink from any community water bowls or from standing water. For more information about Lepto from Blum co-owner and veterinarian, Dr. Natalie Marks, click here.

If you have any further questions or want to verify your dog has been vaccinated against Lepto, please contact a Veterinary Care Coordinator at: (773) 327-4446.

Written for Blum Animal Hospital by Jackie Sheppard.