Leptospirosis

Recently we wrote about an unfortunate incident stemming from a disease called Leptospirosis. At the time we had never heard about, so we only highlighted the experience and decided to do a bit more research. What we found was alarming.

We expected to uncover that the bacteria commonly referred to as Lepto would only affect smaller animals with weaker immune systems. Instead we found that it is a zoonotic disease that can even affect livestock and people. (Thankfully, some animals such as cats have a natural immunity and rarely show signs)

It is even postulated as the cause of an epidemic among Native Americans along the coast of present-day Massachusetts that occurred immediately before the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 and killed most of the native population. (1)

Today, Lepto is still commonplace in impoverished nations but is growing in ubiquity as tourism and travel increases. It is even estimated that ten million peoples are infected by leptospirosis annually and was recently brought to national attention when former Olympic gold rower, Andy Holmes, succumbed to the disease in 2010. (1)

The disease has many strains and can enter the body through contact with infected urine, bite, or the ingestion of infected tissue. The bacteria then rapidly multiplies, spreading to the kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system, eyes, and genital tract (2).

Symptoms devlop 4 to 12 days after exposure. (3)

Each strain can cause different physical and mental symptoms including:

  • Sudden fever and illness
    Sore muscles, reluctance to move
    Stiffness in muscles, legs, stiff
    Shivering
    Weakness
    Depression
    Lack of appetite
    Increased thirst and urination, may be indicative of chronic renal (kidney) failure, progressing to inability to urinate
    Rapid dehydration
    Vomiting, possibly with blood
    Diarrhea – with or without blood in stool
    Bloody vaginal discharge
    Dark red speckled gums (petechiae)
    Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes – anemic symptoms
    Spontaneous cough
    Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse
    Runny nose
    Swelling of the mucous membrane
    Mild swelling of the lymph nodes
    (1)

If the damage to the kidneys or liver is not too severe, the animal will begin to recover in 7 or 8 days. (4)

Treatment consists of Penicillin, subcutaneous fluids, and Doxycycline are used to treat the initial infection, correct dehydration, and the long term states respectively. (4)

Unfortunately, asymptomatic sufferers can still spread the infection and may intermittently shed bacteria for months or years.
Even with treatment, mortality rates can be as high as 10 to 50%. (1)

If the disease worsens, it can cause kidney failure and bleeding. At this stage, it is often referred to as Weil’s disease, named after Adolf Weil a prominent German physician who lost his life to what was later revealed as a variation of Leptospirosis.

Vaccines are available, but usually only for one or two of the more common strains. Unfortunately, vaccination against one strain does not protect against the other strains and a positive diagnosis can only be made through a blood test. (4)

A Leptospiral vaccination for dogs offer about 6 to 8 months of protection but it can be very traumatic so puppies should wait months before vaccination.

Be cautious of crowded areas such as kennels as this is a common way for animals to contract the disease. The best way to prevent spread is to keep animals out of contact with potential sources of infection including contaminated water sources, wildlife reservoirs, or domestic animals that are infected or chronic carriers. (4)

Typically we are an upbeat group at ADinLOS, but seeing how severe and grim the circumstance, we felt due diligence to educate ourselves and pass on what we learned. Our next post will be a much lighter and upbeat post.
[1] “Leptospirosis”. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 2015-05-07

[2] “Bacterial Infection (Leptospirosis) in Dogs”. PetMD.com. Retrieved 2015-05-07

[3] “Leptospirosis in Dogs” DogzHealth.com. Retrieved 2015-05-07

[4] “Leptospirosis in Dogs” PetEducation.com. Retrieved 2015-05-07

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