Leptospirosis in Dogs

What is Canine Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that causes serious illness in dogs, other animals and humans. The disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires that live in water or warm, wet soils. Initial symptoms of leptospirosis include fever, lethargy and lack of appetite.

How are dogs Infected? 

Dogs can become infected and develop leptospirosis if their skin with any wound or mucous membranes come into contact with urine-contaminated soil, infected urine, water, food or bedding; through a bite from an infected animal; by eating infected tissues or carcasses; and rarely through breeding. It can also be transferred from the mother dog to the puppies via the placenta.

What are the Signs of Leptospirosis? 

Signs and symptoms of leptospirosis usually appear suddenly, approximately 5 to 14 days after infection.

Mild Leptospirosis

Signs and symptoms of mild leptospirosis include:

  • muscle pain, especially lower back and calves
  • a rash
  • red and irritated eyes
  • jaundice
  • Fever and chills
  • coughing
  • diarrhea, vomiting, or both
  • headache

Most people recover within a week without treatment, but around 10% continue to develop severe leptospirosis.

Severe Leptospirosis

Signs and symptoms of extreme leptospirosis occur within a few days of the absence of moderate leptospirosis symptoms.

Symptoms depend on which of the vital organs are involved. It can lead to meningitis, respiratory distress, kidney or liver failure. This could be fatal.

The Heart, Liver, and Kidneys

If leptospirosis affects the heart, liver, and kidneys, the person will experience the following:

  • pain in the chest
  • panting
  • poor appetite
  • swelling of hands, ankles or feet
  • unexplained weight loss
  • jaundice, seen in a yellowing of the whites of the eyes, tongue, and skin
  • fatigue
  • irregular, often fast, heartbeat
  • muscle pains
  • nausea
  • nosebleeds

Without diagnosis, this can lead to life-threatening renal failure.

The Brain

Meningitis, encephalitis, or both can develop if it affects the brain or spinal cord.

Meningitis is a membrane infection affecting the brain and spinal cord, whereas encephalitis refers to brain tissue infection. Both conditions show similar signs and symptoms.

These can include:

  • problems with physical movements
  • stiff neck
  • inability to speak
  • vomiting
  • unusual behavior
  • disorientation or confusion
  • drowsiness
  • fits or seizures
  • high fever
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light or photophobia

Untreated meningitis or encephalitis may lead to severe brain injury and may be life-threatening.

The Lungs

If the lungs are affected, the person cannot breathe.

Signs and signs shall include:

  • High fever;
  • panting
  • Blood coughing

In extreme cases, there could be so much blood that the person is suffocating.

How is Leptospirosis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of leptospirosis is done by through serological tests, either the solid-phase immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies test or a Microscopic Agglutination Test (MAT) which detects serovar-specific antibodies.

What Definitive Tests are Available to Diagnose Leptospirosis?

There are several tests for the diagnosis of leptospirosis, but the two most common tests are the DNA-PCR test and the microscopic agglutination test (MAT). Infection can be diagnosed with either test, but each has weaknesses in test and, in some situations, both tests may be needed to reach a diagnosis.

Can Leptospirosis be Treated?

Leptospirosis is usually treated with antibiotics and supportive care. The chances of recovery are high when handled early and vigorously, but there is still a possibility of permanent residual kidney or liver damage. The vaccines currently available successfully prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months.

Can People Catch Leptospirosis From Dogs?

Yes. Leptospirosis is contagious and can spread from animals to humans. Pet owners and medical staff should be vigilant when caring for an infected dog.