Leptospirosis in DogsLast updated: August 02, 2016
Leptospirosis is a spiral bacterium that can infect animals and sometimes humans. Lepto can cause kidney and liver issues in pets and embryo death or late-term abortions in pregnant dogs.
TransmissionAnimals with Lepto shed live bacteria in their urine. Wild animals, such as raccoons and rodents, can be carriers of the disease, meaning they shed the bacteria but don't show clinical signs. Most infections come from contact with water that is contaminated with infected urine. Lepto hates dry environments and is short-lived in a desert environment; therefore, watering holes become the main source of infection in dry areas. Exercise yards with Lepto-infected water that washes downhill into puddles can be a big source of infection.
Clinical Signs of Lepto in DogsIn a kennel, Lepto is not often noticed or diagnosed, unless you are looking for solutions to puppy death – one or two stillborn puppies or a puppy that dies shortly after birth usually isn't sent for diagnostics. When these losses happen in first or second-time mothers, Lepto may be causing the issue. Older mothers don't often lose puppies because these mothers get enough natural immunity from infection, preventing loss in later litters.
Clinical signs of Leptospirosis in dogs may include lethargy, muscle and joint pain, poor appetite and dehydration. Leptospirosis targets the kidneys, liver, and blood vessels, so acute infections can cause kidney failure, vomiting, dehydration, bleeding, and jaundice. Generally kidney and liver issues are not seen with abortions, but they are seen when a non-pregnant dog becomes infected.
Lepto abortion storms have been occurring with increased frequency. Kennels have abandoned Lepto vaccination, which has led to a population of animals with no Lepto protection. These abortions affect all females (old or young), and they abort whole litters in late gestation. Fetus abortion the last 14 days or term is suspicious of Lepto. Often when Lepto abortion happens, we have several females bred, and they will all abort if we do not increase immunity. Vaccination of the whole kennel to attain herd immunity will shut the issue down but not before major loss of puppies. If wild Lepto is on board, vaccination of a pregnant dog will not prevent litter loss.
Lepto VaccinesDogs are generally vaccinated for Leptospirosis once a year with a combination vaccine. When you're deciding if a Lepto vaccination is appropriate for your dogs, you should evaluate the value of protection against Lepto exposure. Prevention against Lepto is important for breeding dogs on the ground or using exercise yards; however, the Lepto vaccine is more reactive and does increase the risk of reactions to the vaccination.
DiagnosisDiagnosis of Lepto is usually based on clinical signs. Titers on unvaccinated mothers after abortion can be diagnostic. If they have a titer and are not vaccinated, you have the cause.
Culturing Lepto bacteria is difficult and often unsuccessful, though new techniques have had improved results.
Leptospirosis in Dogs TreatmentTreatment of Leptospirosis involves IV fluids, antibiotics such as Penicillin or Doxycycline, and occasionally blood transfusions. Animals with low levels of the organism still carry and shed Leptospira without clinical disease. These carrier infections are difficult to identify. Treatment is important to prevent carriers, even if it looks like the animal has recovered. Infected carriers are a constant source of infection to other animals.
Prevention of LeptospirosisYou can prevent Leptospirosis by limiting wildlife and rodent access. Limit the brush and tall grass around the kennel and put a fence around the perimeter to discourage the wildlife carriers.
Contaminated standing water is the main source of spread, so kennel designs need to be sloped to limit the amount of standing water. Raised decks and flooring, such as Kennel Deck™ or Dri-Dek®, are also helpful for keeping dogs off of the wet ground. Lepto thrives in wet, moist environments, but has a short life in dry, arid locations, so your environment will help you determine the best approach for preventing Lepto in your kennel.
Vaccination against Lepto is also an important tool for preventing adult infection and puppy loss. All first-time moms should be vaccinated before breeding to elevate immunity with the goal of preventing Lepto losses. If mom's Lepto immunity is solid, she rarely aborts the litter!
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Don Bramlage, DVM, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.