Leptospirosis is a contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection caused by an organism called Leptospira interrogans. It is best known as a disease of our pet dogs, but can affect a range of wild and domesticated species including rodents. It can also affect humans which is known as Weils disease.
Some animals act as asymptomatic carriers and shed bacteria in their urine, others become ill and may die. Leptospira organisms are transmitted through contact with infected animals, their urine, or contaminated soil and water.
Infected dogs can remain apparently healthy yet shed spores in their urine increasing the risk of transmission to other dogs or humans. Some dogs develop chronic progressive kidney disease which can lead to renal failure. Early signs of an infection in the first week or so include fever, muscle pain, stiff gait and weakness, conjunctivitis and vomiting. As these are non-specific signs it is of vital importance to seek veterinary advice if your dog is showing any of these symptoms so they can rule out other causes. As the disease advances the liver and kidney can become affected and the animal can become severely ill.
Early antibiotic therapy is effective in shortening the duration of the disease and decreasing the severity of kidney and liver damage. At later stages of the infection, additional supportive therapy is critical to ensure survival of the dog. Most dogs require intensive care therapy.
The prognosis can be favourable but depends on the stage of the infection at the time of diagnosis and the level of veterinary care. Early recognition and treatment are important to avoid rapid deterioration and life-threatening complications.
Suspicion is initially based on learning that your pet has had possible wildlife exposure, suggestive symptoms, and the presence of acute kidney failure. The diagnosis is confirmed by blood and urine tests and by the presence of antibodies against Leptospirosis in the blood.
Laboratory tests must usually be repeated 2 to 4 weeks after the onset of symptoms to confirm the diagnosis. Until the infection is confirmed, precautionary measures to avoid transmission to other dogs and to humans should be taken. Most dogs suspected of having leptospirosis should be treated.
In order to minimise the risk to animal and human health we recommend vaccinating against Leptospirosis on an annual basis.
As with all veterinary treatments we recommend you seek veterinary advice as how best to proceed with the various options available. As part of my research for this article I looked at the NHS website for their advice on Weils disease (Leptospirosis) in humans.
They recommend that you check your dog is vaccinated against Leptospirosis (there isn’t a vaccine for people) as well as showering as soon as possible after swimming in open water and covering any wounds or grazes with waterproof plasters.
They also recommend washing your hands with soap and water after handling animals or animal products.
Should you have any concerns about your pet’s health or issues raised in this article please contact your veterinary surgery.
Michael Morrow owns and runs St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, a family owned practice providing personal care for all pets in and around Wokingham. To discuss microchipping or any other concerns about your pet please contact the surgery on 0118 979 3200 or log on to www.stvincentsvets.co.uk