Leptospirosis is a potentially serious disease caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans. It affects dogs but can also infect a wide variety of domestic and wild animals as well as humans. The organism is spread through infected urine. Carriers of the organism include raccoons, opossums, rodents, skunks, and dogs. The bacteria can survive for long periods of time in water and is frequently found in swamps, streams, lakes, and standing water. It also survives well in mud and moist soils, and localized outbreaks can occur after periods of flooding. The disease is transmitted to dogs when they have contact with urine or contaminated water or soil.
In many dogs, infection may remain subclinical (without clinical signs) or chronic. In acute, or more serious, cases, dogs may develop potentially fatal kidney or liver disease.
Leptospirosis can be diagnosed through blood tests; however, tests may need to be performed multiple times to confirm a diagnosis.
Prevention of Leptospirosis
Exposure to leptospirosis can be reduced by discouraging your dog from drinking from puddles of standing water and by preventing your dog from swimming in lakes, streams, or other bodies of water that may be contaminated. Unfortunately, for dogs that are accustomed to an active outdoor lifestyle that includes swimming, these precautions may not be practical.
Prevention of leptospirosis is complicated by the fact that Leptospira interrogans has more than 200 different serovars (subtypes) that can cause illness in animals and people. The available vaccines only protect against a handful of the most common subtypes that infect dogs, which can limit their protective value. Nevertheless, the available vaccines are effective and safe when used as directed, and many veterinarians recommend the vaccination for dogs at risk for exposure. Annual revaccination is required.
The leptospirosis vaccine is not required for all dogs. Your veterinarian may recommend this vaccine based on your dog’s lifestyle and likely exposure risk. Vaccination, no matter how routine, is a medical procedure. Always monitor your pet for signs of a vaccine reaction and follow your veterinarian’s instructions on what to do if one occurs.
Humans can also become infected with leptospirosis, so handle any dog suspected of having the disease with care. Adhere to good hygiene techniques, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding contact with potentially contaminated urine.