What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Leptospira. There are many different types, known as serogroups, and many different variants, which are referred to as serovars. This is important to know, because different serovars can affect different species in different ways. It is also important because Leptospirosis vaccinations are specific against certain serovars.
It is considered uncommon in Australia. However, there have been signs of re-emergence. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to people. For this reason, it is notifiable across Australia.
What are the clinical signs of leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can cause clinical signs of varying severity, including seizures, jaundice, clotting disorders, and collapse. Infected dogs may also have vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle weakness, fever, and abdominal pain. In young puppies, infection can result in sudden death.
Protect the puppies!
The severity of disease is dependent on a number of factors, including: serovar and the species, age, and health of the affected animal. Consequently, infection does not always result in clinical signs. Regardless, all infected animals, including those who appear healthy, can shed organisms in their bodily fluids, affecting other dogs and humans.
If your veterinarian is suspicious of Leptospirosis, the first step is a full blood test to ensure that your dog’s kidneys and liver are functioning well. The next step, which is to make a definitive diagnosis, requires a blood test and urine test to be sent to the lab for further testing.
How does my dog get it?
Dogs can become infected when they are exposed to infected fluids. This can mean direct exposure to rat urine or the ingestion of rat tissues or it can mean indirect exposure of mucous membranes (mouth and eyes) to contaminated water. Once they are infected, the leptospires make their way to the kidneys and are shed via urine.
The most common serovar which causes clinical disease in dogs is carried by rats. Other serovars can cause disease as well, but these are more commonly carried by farm animals and are not typically expected in urban areas.
How is it treated and how can it be prevented?
Treatment of Leptospirosis involves antimicrobial therapy and supportive care. Treatment must be started as early as possible to prevent irreversible damage to the kidneys and liver.
Fatal infection can be prevented with vaccination. The vaccination used in Australia protects against Leptospira interrogans sv Copenhageni, which is the most common disease-causing serovar in Australian dogs. The vaccination protocol requires one vaccination with a booster four weeks later. To remain protected, your dog needs to be vaccinated annually from then onward.
As the vaccination only covers one serovar, it is still very important to keep your dog away from potentially contaminated areas. This means avoiding stagnant bodies of water and rat-infested areas. It also means avoiding raw meat, which may carry leptospires from farm animals.
If you’re worried, please contact your local veterinarian to discuss your options! Stay safe, furbabies!