Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospirosis is a dangerous infectious disease in dogs. Read here how to recognize, treat and prevent leptospirosis in dogs and everything you need to know about leptospirosis vaccination.

Leptospirosis is a contagious disease that can also be fatal. Bacteria, the leptospira, are responsible for the infection. They penetrate the organism via the mucous membranes or the skin. All possible organs are affected from the blood: heart, pleura and especially liver and kidneys. Since leptospirosis can also be transmitted to humans, dog owners should recognize symptoms early and act quickly.

Transmission of leptospirosis in dogs

Dogs can contract leptospirosis in a number of ways. The pathogens can be transmitted, for example, via saliva, semen, milk, amniotic fluid and even the afterbirth.

Dogs are particularly often infected with leptospirosis when they drink from puddles: the leptospira are excreted in the urine by infected animals – not just dogs, but also foxes, cattle and mice, for example – and thus get into the soil and into the water. The moisture-loving bacteria often collect in puddles in particular.

Preventing Leptospirosis in Dogs: Vaccination

Vaccination against leptospirosis is one of the five core vaccinations for dogs. The basic immunization should take place twice at intervals of four weeks from the eighth week of life. The dog is then vaccinated against leptospirosis once a year, preferably in late winter to spring.

However, immunization does not completely rule out infection, since it is not possible to vaccinate against all types of Leptospira. Nevertheless, the vaccination offers good protection for dogs and, in the event of an infection, usually protects against a severe course and long-term consequences.

When vaccinating against leptospirosis, it is important to use a vaccine that protects the dog from four types of pathogens. There are also vaccines that only protect the dog from two important types of pathogens. Ask your vet for advice.
To further prevent leptospirosis, you should make sure that your dog does not drink from puddles when walking.

Symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs

Leptospirosis manifests itself very differently from dog to dog. Depending on the type of pathogen, the age and health of the dog and its immune system, the courses vary in severity: while the disease does not break out in some dogs and remains undetected, others have mild or severe and acute symptoms. Puppies, unvaccinated or already weakened dogs are particularly at risk.

The first symptoms of leptospirosis appear after an incubation period of about four to twelve days. These can be very unspecific:

  • fever
  • vomiting and diarrhea
  • loss of appetite, fatigue

Depending on whether and which organs are affected by the infection, other symptoms also appear. Since the liver or kidneys are often affected, these symptoms are relatively common:

  • dehydration
  • increased urination
  • jaundice (yellow discoloration of the mucous membranes)

The lungs can also be affected. This is often followed by breathing difficulties or a (bloody) cough.

There is also the so-called peracute, sudden course. The bacteria multiply so quickly that organ damage occurs within a short time.

Prognosis: How dangerous is leptospirosis for dogs?

Leptospirosis is curable. However, it can still be fatal. It is particularly fatal if the infection is not recognized in time due to the non-specific symptoms. Because if leptospirosis – even in mild cases – is not treated or treated too late, it can have serious consequences: chronic kidney or liver inflammation often occurs and untreated dogs suffer fatal kidney or liver failure. As the Ismaning Animal Clinic explains, the mortality rate for leptospirosis is 20 to 50 percent, and even higher for puppies. It is therefore extremely important to detect the infection in good time.

Leptospirosis in dogs: diagnosis and treatment

Leptospirosis in dogs can be diagnosed directly by a urine test in a laboratory or indirectly by an antibody test in the blood.

Once diagnosed with leptospirosis, the dog must be treated with antibiotics in two stages to stop the spread and shedding of the bacteria. In severe and acute cases, an inpatient stay in a veterinary clinic is usually necessary.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the dog also needs intensive medical care and is supplied with painkillers, infusions, or oxygen. Medication to support liver function or urinary catheters may also be necessary. The necessary treatment depends entirely on the dog’s symptoms and the severity of the infection.

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