Leptospirosis in Dogs: How They Get It and How Can We Prevent It

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that dogs get when a kind of bacteria, known as Leptospira, enter the system of dogs through skin and it spreads throughout the body by the medium of bloodstream. ​​​

The bacteria Leptospira is zoonotic, which means that this disease can also be transmitted to humans and other animals who come in contact with the infected dog. However, children have higher risk of getting infected by the bacteria through an infected pet. 

The bacteria spreads through the entire body of infected dogs and reproduce in the kidneys, liver, eyes, central nervous system and reproductive system. Fever kicks-in and bacterial infection of the blood develops soon after the initial infection in dogs. 

Leptospirosis in dogs

However, these symptoms of Leptospirosis soon get resolved with the reactive increase of antibodies that clears up the bacteria from most of a dog’s system. 

Moreover, the extent to which this infection will affect the organs of an infected dog depend on how strong dog’s immune system is and its ability to completely eliminate the infection. At times, the bacteria Leptospira can even linger in the kidneys and reproduce there and infect the urine.

Even after the immune system and antibodies clear up the bacteria from most of the dog’s body, it may hide away in kidneys and can shed for many months after the infection through the urine. However, right treatment can help prevent long-term shedding in the urine. 

Furthermore, this infection in the liver or kidneys can be deadly for dogs and other animals if it continues to grow, it can even cause serious damage to these organ. For obvious reasons, younger animals have higher risk for more serious complications because their immune systems are not fully developed. 

How dogs get infected with Leptospirosis?

The bacteria Leptospira pass through the urine of infected pet and it can survive in the environment for long periods of time, especially in warm and humid areas, standing water bodies like ponds and moist soil. 

dirty pond dog

Most of the times dogs are infected through direct contact with urine of any infected animal, or they can get infected by contact with water or soil, which is contaminated with urine of infected animal. Leptospira bacteria can get in through the soft lining of a dog’s nose, mouth and eyelids or it can enter a dog’s body through open sores and skin scratches. 

Symptoms of Leptospirosis 

Some of the most common symptoms of Leptospirosis, which can help a pet owner get their pet the care they need, include:

  • Sudden fever & illness
  • Shivering
  • Stiffness in muscles & legs
  • Sore muscles & reluctance to move
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Rapid dehydration
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Inability to urinate, which may progress to kidney failure
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting with or without blood
  • Diarrhea with or without blood
  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Unprompted cough
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Irregular pulse
  • Runny nose
  • Swelling of mucous membrane
  • Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes
  • Dark red speckled gums

Diagnosing Leptospirosis in Dogs

As mentioned above, Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease hence it is strongly advised that your veterinarian and you are extra cautious when dealing with your pet. There can’t be enough emphasis on how important it is to wear protective latex gloves at all times when handling with the pet and to treat all body fluids of your infected dog as a biologically hazardous material. 

Post-abortion discharge, urine, semen, vomit and any other fluid that leaves the body of infected dog should be dealt with extreme caution. 

To help your veterinarian properly diagnose your pet dog, you will have to provide a detailed history of your pet’s health, which includes the background history of symptoms, latest activities and other probable incidents that may have triggered your pet’s current condition.

The history you provide and recent activities of your pet might help your veterinarian to determine what stage of infection your dog is going through and which organs of your pet are affected and at what intensity. 

How can we prevent Leptospirosis? 

Vaccines for Leptospirosis are available and they are even recommended in places where Leptospirosis infection is common. However, the vaccines for Leptospirosis are only produced for some particular kinds of the Leptospira bacteria and they don’t provide immunity to infection for long-term, so the vaccines need to be repeated as often as prescribed by authorized doctor. 

bacteria in dogs

Even though the available vaccines are not exactly 100 percent effective and they also don’t protect against all varieties of Leptospira, but they are still recommended as they can help prevent a possibly severe disease which can also be transmitted to people. 

Moreover, it is also recommended that before implementing vaccines and vaccination schedule, you discuss them with your vet to ensure they are appropriate for you depending on your dog’s risk factors. 

Furthermore, taking necessary rodent control measures help reduce the risk of infection, and in places where Leptospirosis is common, it is only smart to prevent your dogs from swimming in ponds and other slow-moving water bodies and getting exposure to places with high contamination possibility. 

Necessary home care for a pet with Leptospirosis

If your dog is diagnosed with Leptospirosis, you can minimize the possible risks primarily with carefully maintained hygiene. In reality it is often seen that pets who do not show visible signs of infection, and therefore they are not diagnosed and given the necessary treatment of antibiotics to prevent bacteria shedding in urine, possibly carry greater risk of transmitting the infection to their owners. 

However, here are few steps to follow, when your pet is diagnosed with Leptospirosis, to prevent infections from spreading: 

  • Make extra effort to avoid contact with your dog’s urine and if you need to handle urine then make sure you have taken protective measures, such as wearing gloves.
  • Be more careful with general good hygiene practices, such as carefully washing hands.
  • Use antibacterial disinfectant or diluted bleach solution to disinfect the surface areas where your infected dog have urinated.
  • Carefully follow treatment advices form your vet and ensure all prescribed medications are being taken as directed.

Lastly, if any person becomes ill after being in contact with a Leptospirosis diagnosed dog, make sure you mention dog’s infection to your health care provider.

Article written by:

I am Amanda Jason and I am a full-time blogger. I have two dogs of my own and I am an animal rights activist. I use my love for writing to help other pet owners, so they can have all important information related to their pets such as possible diseases like leptospirosis in dogs.

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