Dogs become infected when the bacteria enters their body through breaks in the skin or their mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). Some examples include getting contaminated soil in a wound or drinking or swimming in contaminated water. After infection, some dogs do not get ill but those that do can display a wide variety of signs including fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal signs, but unfortunately some dogs progress to the hallmark signs of kidney and liver failure. This makes Lepto a potentially life-threatening disease and not to be taken lightly!
Testing for this disease once a pet becomes ill involves a combination of bloodwork, urine, Lepto titers (which check the body’s antibody levels to an infection), and imaging of the internal organs through x-rays and ultrasound. Treatment is aimed at supporting the affected organs and the patient while starting antibiotics. This is best accomplished with hospitalization for IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, monitoring, and injectable antibiotics. Fortunately, the Lepto bacteria are susceptible to antibiotics and typically a combination is used to both clear the blood infection and eliminate the bacteria from the kidney. It is worth noting that even though we can kill the bacteria, the patient’s overall prognosis depends on the degree of organ damage and response to treatment.
However, the best treatment is prevention, and thank goodness we have vaccines for the most common strains of Leptospirosis. They can be started as young as 12 weeks of age and initially are a series of two vaccines given 3-4 weeks apart. It is boostered annually thereafter. Unlike many of our viral vaccines which can produce an immunity of up to 3 years, Lepto is a bacteria and durations of immunity longer than one year have not been able to be established. So that annual booster is a must!
Recently, at our Mt. Prospect Hospital, we have had a couple of positive cases of Lepto that were late on their annual vaccines. After consulting with veterinarians at the vaccine manufacturer, we have started recommending re-boostering if your dog is more than 6 weeks late for their annual booster. This ensures they are protected for the strains in the vaccine and allows the manufacturer to back their guarantee on the vaccine.
If you have any further questions, please ask our team or visit http://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/
article written by:
Dr. Jessica Smith
Companion Animal Hospital Mount Prospect