While on a walk or hike, dogs have a knack for finding any amount of water and splashing around. You might not want to ruin their fun, but standing water can actually be home to microorganisms that threaten your pup’s health. One of the risks is a nasty disease called leptospirosis.
This bacterial infection is not only capable of making your dog feel really sick—it can also lead to rapid deterioration of the kidneys or liver! In order to prevent leptospirosis from affecting your pet, learn more about the disease and how to avoid it.
What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a harmful disease caused by bacteria called Leptospira. There are multiple strains of this bacteria that can cause disease, and they can be found around the world. It’s most common in areas with warm climates.
The Leptospira bacteria is passed through urine and can be found in contaminated soil and water. One of the most common ways for dogs to catch the bacteria is by drinking from contaminated bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, streams and puddles that are frequented by wildlife. Therefore, dogs should never be allowed to drink from stagnant bodies of water, since they could contain any number of contaminants, including the Leptospira bacteria.
Dogs can also become infected if they have a wound or scrape—anything that causes an opening in the skin—and play in contaminated water. Other means of transmission include contact with infected urine, eating food or soil contaminated with infected urine and being bit by an infected animal.
A vaccine also exists to prevent leptospirosis. However, this will not be recommended to all dogs. Your vet might recommend it if your area has experienced outbreaks of leptospirosis or the bacteria is commonly found in your region.
How to spot leptospirosis
Leptospirosis can affect dogs in a lot of different ways. Some dogs get extremely ill from the infection, while others will experience minor illness or have no symptoms at all. Bolstering your dog’s immune system may make it easier for their body to fight the bacteria faster. The disease typically begins to show signs within a few days of exposure to the bacteria.
Symptoms might include:
- Muscle pain
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
One of the biggest risks associated with the disease is kidney and/or liver failure. Leptospira bacteria move to the kidneys and liver, where it begins to reproduce. The subsequent infection and immune response can damage these organs. In severe cases, this can cause acute failure that might lead to death.
Other major side effects include labored breathing and lung disease, nosebleeds and other bleeding disorders and fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen.
Diagnosis and treatment
If your dog displays any of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you get them to the vet as soon as you can. Early treatment is critical to removing the bacteria from your pup’s system and curing their disease.
Unfortunately, many symptoms of leptospirosis are common in other diseases. At the vet, you’ll want to explain whether your pet has had exposure to any bodies of water, feral animals or other potentially contaminated sources. This can help them understand your pet’s exposure history and come to a diagnosis. Blood tests, urine tests, X-rays and other scans might be necessary, depending on the symptoms your dog is showing at the time.
Leptospirosis will need to be treated with antibiotics. However, your dog might need additional supportive care based on their symptoms. Some dogs might need to be hospitalized if their condition is severe enough.
If their infection caused damage to the liver or kidneys, dogs might develop chronic kidney or liver disease. This condition may need to be treated with medications, dietary changes and other precautions for the rest of their life. Discuss this with your vet to determine the best treatment plan for your pet if their organ damage was severe.
Leptospirosis is dangerous for the whole family
Unfortunately, leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Although pet-to-human transmission is uncommon, you should still take precautions when handling your pet. Avoid any contact with your dog’s urine and keep any other pets away from where they urinate. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your pet until their infection has cleared.
Leptospirosis can have dangerous implications for your pet’s (and your family’s) health, but it can be prevented. Keep your pup away from standing bodies of water to help them stay healthy and safe.