What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a highly infectious bacterial disease spread via the urine of infected dogs or rats. It is also zoonotic (which means it can spread to humans via contact from infected urine).
Symptoms include jaundice, raised temperature, severe thirst, lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. Unfortunately, death often occurs within a matter of hours in severe cases and puppies are commonly more susceptible than adult dogs.
The diagnosis of leptospirosis may be difficult and a high proportion of infected pets may develop long-term infections. These pets potentially pose a significant risk for cross-infection to other dogs and humans.
What causes leptospirosis?
In the UK, the most significant forms of the disease appear to be caused by Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae, otherwise known as Weil’s disease, and less commonly, Leptospira canicola.
Rats are the main carrier of Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae. This bacterium is transmitted to dogs either directly through infected urine or indirectly via contact with contaminated water (ie swimming in rivers, ponds etc). Dogs that have been infected may go on to become carriers of the disease and the bacterium can then be passed out in their urine putting other dogs and people at risk. Symptoms can range from mild to severe with liver failure and sudden death in the worst cases.
Dogs are the main carrier of Leptospira canicola which primarily affects the kidneys. Symptoms vary from mild to severe with kidney failure and sudden death in the worst cases. Dogs can also be carriers of Leptospira canicola and again the bacterium can be passed out in urine which puts other dogs and people at risk.
Severe forms of the disease are difficult to treat and can prove rapidly fatal. Antibiotics are often used to treat leptospirosis and intensive care support, including the administration of intravenous fluids, is often required. If you think your dog has leptospirosis, please contact your vet immediately.
Vaccination against leptospirosis is the only proven method of preventing the disease. Infected dogs should be kept away from healthy dogs and dogs should be kept away from stagnant waterways which may be the source of infection.