Leptospirosis in dogs: symptoms, causes & treatment

Dog leptospirosis is a bacterial infectious disease. Unfortunately, the symptoms of the disease are very vague. Since leptospirosis can be dangerous and can also be transmitted to humans, you should prevent infection as much as possible. Find out how to do this and what you can do in the event of an infection here. The leptospirosis pathogens lurk, for example, in stagnant water like puddles. Puppies and dogs whose immune systems are weak are particularly at risk of being infected - Shutterstock / otsphoto

The tricky thing about leptospirosis is that there are almost 200 different types of leptospiras, i.e. pathogens, that can trigger them. This makes it difficult to develop a vaccine that reliably protects against all of these bacteria. Dogs in rural areas who like to bathe in the water outdoors as well as animals with a weak immune system are particularly at risk.

Leptospirosis in dogs: symptoms are mostly non-specific

The symptoms of dog leptospirosis are similar to other infectious diseases such as a severe cold. However, they can vary from animal to animal. The extent to which the individual complaints express themselves depends on the general state of health and the extent of the immune system. Adult, healthy dogs with a high antibody content in the immune system and good vaccination protection usually survive an infection without damage or show only mild symptoms. They are also less likely to fear late effects.

For example, dog leptospirosis may have the following symptoms:

● lassitude, fatigue
● Loss of appetite
● fever
● Muscle tremors
● vomiting
● diarrhea

In severe cases, the bacteria attack the dog's organs. Depending on which organs are affected, these serious symptoms can be added:

● Liver: jaundice
● Gastrointestinal tract: bloody diarrhea
● Kidneys: frequent urination, dehydration (dehydration)
● Lungs: (bloody) cough, shortness of breath

In severe cases, organ damage can be permanent, such as in the form of kidney or liver failure. In the worst case, an infection even leads to the death of the animal. If the dog loses a lot of blood in the course of leptospirosis, anemia can also occur. This manifests itself among other things through pale mucous membranes.

Transmission of leptospirosis in dogs: causes and sources of danger

Dogs can contract leptospirosis both directly and indirectly. The direct transmission of the leptospira takes place, for example, via wild animals such as rats, mice and hedgehogs. In addition, sick dogs can infect their peers when mating or through bite wounds. As soon as the animals come into contact with infected blood or urine, the risk of infection is very high.

Indirect transmission is due to the fact that the bacteria can survive for weeks in moist environments. For example, if urine from infected wild animals gets into the ground, in puddles or brackish water, the leptospiras wait patiently for a host to come by. If your dog sniffs at such a place, for example, the pathogens can penetrate through the nasal mucous membranes. If he eats grass that is contaminated with infected urine, the bacteria enter his body through the oral mucosa. Even the smallest injuries in the paws can become the entrance gate for leptospires if your dog walks through a puddle while walking.

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Diagnosis and treatment of dog leptospirosis

Diagnosing dog leptospirosis is difficult due to the non-specific symptoms. A blood test can provide first indications. The bacteria can be detected in the blood up to eight days after the infection. In addition, white blood cells are increased in the event of infection, but this also occurs with other infectious diseases. The suspicion of leptospirosis is confirmed if a so-called antibody detection is positive.

If you suspect leptospirosis, your dog will be treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics for three to four weeks. The treatment is divided into two phases with two different active ingredients. This is necessary because you can never say exactly which subspecies of leptospiras your dog got infected with. A broad-spectrum antibiotic works against many different bacteria. The two phases are important so that the pathogens cannot develop resistance to an antibiotic, so that the drugs no longer harm them. This would make therapy for leptospirosis very difficult.

How well does vaccination against leptospirosis help?

Unlike the basic immunization against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus, the vaccination against leptospirosis needs to be refreshed once or twice a year. In addition, leptospirosis vaccination only protects against some of the subspecies of leptospiras, which means that your dog can still contract the disease despite the vaccination. However, the risk of infection with valid vaccination protection is much lower than without vaccination.

For this reason, it is advisable to vaccinate dogs in rural areas, water-loving dogs, puppies, old animals and those with a weak immune system against leptospirosis. Your veterinarian should use the most up-to-date vaccine possible - the vaccine is constantly being developed to improve protection and work against more subspecies of the pathogen.

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Preventing Leptospirosis: What You Can Do

In addition to vaccination protection, you can protect your dog from leptospirosis by largely avoiding possible sources of danger. Cleanliness and hygiene in your area are a good start. Since not all sources of danger can be avoided, the best way to help your dog is to strengthen his immune system: through healthy, species-appropriate nutrition, generally adequate vaccination protection and dog-friendly employment. If your dog is getting old or has a chronic illness, ask your veterinarian which vitamin preparations and food supplements are suitable for your four-legged friend to support the immune system.

Attention! Leptospirosis is transferable to humans

Caution! Leptospirosis is a so-called zoonosis, a disease that can be transmitted from dogs to other animals and humans. Make sure that you come into contact with your dog's urine or saliva as rarely as possible. If that happens anyway, wash your hands or face as quickly as possible afterwards.