Is Your Dog At Risk For Leptospirosis Disease?

By April 1, 2019 October 24th, 2019 Preventative Medicine

Is your dog at risk for Leptospirosis disease?

With the onset of good weather and the promise of spring turning towards summer, here is some information to keep to mind as you head outdoors with your dog.

What is leptospirosis and how does it spread?
Leptospirosis (aka lepto) is a disease affecting both people and pets. It is a bacterium that is spread when cut or irritated skin comes into contact with infected urine or with water contaminated with infected urine. Bite wounds and even eating infected tissue can also transmit lepto.
The lepto bacterium is able to survive in cool, moist soil as long as they do not freeze or become exposed to direct sunlight. Once in soil, they can wash into the water system. Urine contamination usually comes from wildlife (especially racoons and rodents).
Region where lepto is common
Lepto is normally found in BC and Southern Ontario since it is able to survive in moist, temperate environments. We are seeing it here in Alberta (mostly from dogs with travel history to BC) but with climate change, it is very likely lepto may start popping up in our province in the foreseeable future.

What are the signs and symptoms:

Loss of appetite
Joint pain
Excessive drinking and urination
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
Excess bleeding (brought on by low platelet count)
Lepto can infect multiple organs and cause general malaise. Which organs are most affected depends on the type/serovar of the lepto, the immunity of the dog and the age of the dog. Lepto often settles in the kidneys and begins to reproduce, leading to further inflammation and then kidney failure in 90 percent of patients (10-20% also have liver failure).

Consulting your veterinarian is your first step. Based on travel history and physical signs (as listed above), blood work is our next step in confirming if your dog is infected with lepto.

Lepto is sensitive to penicillin. Penicillin is used to stop lepto reproduction and limit bloodstream infection. After penicillin is used, tetracycline antibiotics are used to treat the kidneys.
Prognosis is guarded depending on the extent of organ damage with appropriate treatment 80-90 percent survival rates are reported.
Even after starting treatment, it takes about a week for lepto to clear from the urine so it is important to wear personal protective equipment (gloves, goggles, etc.) and be careful of contamination. Any areas at home that have been contaminated with urines should be disinfected with an iodine-based cleaner and gloves should always be worn.

Fortunately, leptospirosis is preventable through vaccination. At this time, it is not considered a “core vaccine” so not many dogs in Alberta receive it. However, with the likely spread into our province, this is a conversation you should be having with your veterinarian. Dogs that travel to BC, Southern Ontario and USA should definitely be vaccinated against leptospirosis.