Aquatic Spirochetes: What Every Pet Owner Should Know About Leptospirosis

dog with LeptospirosisIf we had to choose, would we decide to share all illnesses with our pets? Of course not! Luckily, most health problems are not contagious between the species, but in the case of a zoonotic disease, humans can get very sick from their pets. Leptospirosis is definitely one illness that you don’t want to mess with.

While it’s considered more common for human transmission to result from activities in and around water, a pet who picks up Leptospira bacteria in warm water or soil could place human caregivers at risk.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospira is a type of bacteria that thrives in high humidity and stagnant water reservoirs. Known as spirochetes, these bacteria have a spiral or helical shape that is seen by their swirling, twisting motion in water.

Transmission Opportunities

There isn’t any clinical evidence to support that the disease affects cats. Dogs and other mammals are at risk via:

  • Drinking from rivers, streams, lakes, and other rural water sources (as well as puddles and standing water in urban areas)
  • Wildlife
  • Farm animals
  • Rodents
  • Other dogs

It’s important to discourage drinking from potentially contaminated water sources, but dogs can also become infected when open wounds, cuts, or scrapes come into contact with the saliva, urine, food, water, or bedding of an infected animal. Dogs who eat the infected tissue of a smaller animal can develop the symptoms of leptospirosis.

Signs and Symptoms

Leptospirosis presents in various ways within 4-12 days after date of infection. Some dogs will not have any obvious symptoms, or only mild symptoms of illness. Other dogs will experience severe illness or even death.

If you notice any of these symptoms, call us right away:

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Changes in urination
  • Eye inflammation
  • Trouble breathing
  • Yellow tint to mucous membranes and skin
  • Nosebleeds
  • Swollen legs

Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure, which sometimes occurs in tandem with liver failure.

Treating Leptospirosis

If your pet is diagnosed with leptospirosis, it is critical to his or her health and longevity to be treated promptly. After a physical examination, we may run various diagnostics, such as blood and/or urine tests, digital radiographs, or ultrasounds, to learn more about how your dog is affected by the disease.

We can treat with antibiotics, but even with early detection, the risk of permanent kidney or liver damage is possible.

Steps to Protect Yourself

If your dog has leptospirosis, you must protect your family, other animals, and people from contacting it, too, by:

  • Completing the full course of your dog’s antibiotics
  • Avoiding all contact with your dog’s urine
  • Wearing gloves and washing your hands when you need to clean up after your pet, or when you interact with him or her
  • Discouraging your dog from urinating in or near water sources

Many people with compromised immune systems are at further risk.

A Mode of Prevention

Thankfully, your dog can be vaccinated against leptospirosis for 12 months. Also, when you are spending time outdoors, try to be mindful of the sources for the spread of disease.

If our staff can assist you with additional questions or concerns, please let us know.