Leptospirosis in Dogs
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can affect a dog’s blood, liver, and kidneys. The bacteria that cause the illness are carried primarily by rats and other rodents, but dogs that are infected with the disease can infect other dogs as well. Ingestion of the urine of an infected animal is the most common means of transmission, but the bacteria can be contracted through damaged or thin skin as well.
Leptospirosis is an odd disease that can often show no signs or symptoms at all. In these cases the bacteria are eventually defeated by the dog’s natural defenses. Other times, and more often, however, the disease can be life threatening to the infected dog. The three main forms of the disease are hemorrhagic (infection in the blood, causing bleeding), renal (infecting the kidneys), and icteric (infecting the liver).
Hemorrhagic Leptospirosis tends to start with a high fever, loss of appetite, and general lethargy. Small hemorrhages start to occur in the mouth and eyes and the dog may develop extreme bloody vomiting and diarrhea. This form of the disease is often fatal.
Icteric Leptospirosis will often start the same way as the hemorrhagic form; with fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The mouth and whites of the eyes will take on a yellow appearance, similar to victims of jaundice. In some cases the dog’s skin may also appear yellow and jaundiced.
Renal Leptospirosis also starts with fever, appetite loss, and lethargic depression, but eventually leads to kidney failure.
All three forms of the disease are treatable and curable and all three forms can be potentially fatal. Often dogs that survive renal Leptospirosis will have chronic kidney disease for the rest of their lives.
Treatment is accomplished with the use of antibiotics and, if the disease is caught early enough, is generally successful. Cases of Leptospirosis in North America are fairly rare, thanks to the development of a vaccine. Puppies are inoculated for the disease as early as six weeks of age and receive annual renewal shots to maintain their immunity.
Vaccination and clean, hygienic conditions are the best way to avoid Leptospirosis in dogs. If the animal is not able to come into contact with disease carrying rats and their urine, the dog is unlikely to become infected, even if unvaccinated. The leptospirosis vaccine is the most likely of all dog vaccinations to cause an adverse reaction in the dog. This reaction is generally mild and most often includes lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression. These effects last only a few days and afterward the dog is fine and, more importantly, protected from the disease.
Leptospirosis is one of the nastiest diseases a dog can get and no one wants to see his or her pet suffer with this illness. Fortunately, thanks to the existence of a good vaccine, few dogs have to endure this life threatening illness in this day and age.