The Facts About Leptospirosis

 In Pet Talk: In the News

Leptospirosis is a bacterial organism that affects dogs and people, with peak incidences occurring July through November, which coincides with some hunting seasons in Wisconsin.  

There are many different strains, also known as serovars, of leptospirosis.  Reservoir hosts of the bacteria include rats, raccoons, cows, pigs and even mice.  The bacteria are shed from the kidneys of affected animals, and in most cases dogs are exposed by way of urine-contaminated water, soil or food.  Leptospires are hardy and can remain infectious in the environment and soil for weeks to months, although freezing temperature can kill the bacteria.

Leptospirosis causes a variety of illness in dogs, ranging from mild signs to severe illness or even death associated with kidney or liver failure.   Some of the earlier signs often start with increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite or fever.   A veterinarian’s exam with blood work and urinalysis often yield a high index of suspicion for the disease, but a diagnosis is made following leptospirosis-specific tests. 

People can become infected and sick with leptospirosis as well as dogs.  Infection in some people is very mild and can present as flu-like symptoms whereas in severe cases, the kidneys, liver and even lungs can be affected.  People can become infected with leptospirosis from infected dogs.  Therefore, if there is any concern for human exposure or illness, a physician should be notified immediately.  

The good news about leptospirosis is that dogs can respond well to treatment and in many cases, make a full recovery with hospitalization, supportive care and antibiotic therapy.  Dogs with a higher risk of infection can be vaccinated annually.  These dogs include herding, working or hunting dogs and dogs that are those exposed routinely to wildlife or livestock.   Current vaccines appear to reduce shedding and may even be able to prevent disease. Interestingly, cats do not appear to become sick from leptospirosis.

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