Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by Leptospira, inflicting serious damage to the kidney and liver, according to Kristiina Ruotsalo, DVM, DVSc, ACVP & Margo S. Tant, BSc, DVM, DVSc of VCA Hospitals, an operator of animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Bacteria passes through the urine of an infected animal and to the environment.
Once it is in the environment, the bacteria can survive for long periods of time in warm, stagnant water or moist soil. Wild animals such as skunks, rats, wolves, and deer, can pass the infection to your dog.
Serological Survey of Canine Leptospirosis in Southern China (2011)
Dayou Shi and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate conducted a serological survey of canine leptospirosis in domestic dogs using ELISA kit. A total of 314 dogs, consisting of 168 females and 146 males, in Chongqing, Kunming, Nanchang, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Nanning were analyzed. 23 or 7.3% of dogs were seropositive of canine leptospirosis. Of those, 6% of females and 8.9% of males were seropositive of this disease.
Among age groups, 9.2% of dogs aged 1-4 years were seropositive of canine leptospirosis, compared to those aged 0-1 years (6.4%) and >4 years (5.8%). In each city in Southern China, 23.3% of dogs in Nanning were seropositive, followed by Chongqing (16.7%), Kunming (10%), Nanchang (3.3%), Guangzhou (3.2%), and Shenzhen (2.4%).
The authors stated that leptospirosis is prevalent among domestic dogs in Southern China. These dogs are a source of infection for humans and other animals, Shi and colleagues argued. Seroprevalence is low but asymptomatic dogs should be seen as a “significant reservoir” with regard to the spread of leptospirosis.
Owner Awareness and Knowledge of Canine Leptospirosis in Morogoro, Tanzania (2018)
Khadija Said, Abdu Katakweba, and Robert Machang’u of Research Gate said a total of 124 respondents participated in the study. The respondents kept dogs for security purposes (95%), as pets (4%), and for breeding (1%). When asked if dogs ever get sick, 84.7% said yes while 15.3% said dogs do not get sick. Of the respondents who said dogs get sick, they mentioned rabies (66.9%), worm infestation (58.9%), mange (38.7%), canine parvovirus (4%), flea infestation (1.6%), and transmissible venereal tumor (0.8%).
112 or 98.4% of respondents have never heard of canine leptospirosis. 12 respondents knew about it from their neighbors/friends (3.2%), field officers (3.2%), veterinarians (1.6%), brochures (0.8%), and radio and television (0.8%). When asked about the symptoms of canine leptospirosis, the respondents mentioned loss of appetite (41.7%), vomiting (41.7%), diarrhea (16.7%), fever (16.7%), and blood in urine (8.3%).
The researchers concluded that there is little awareness of canine leptospirosis and its potential public health risk to dog owners. Low awareness could be attributed to the respondents' level of education, with 56.5% having finished primary level education, followed by those with no formal education (18.5%), and those that had secondary education (13.7%). Only 6.5% and 4.8% of respondents were college level or graduates.
There is a need for increased awareness of this disease not just among dog owners, but the general population as well. This can be done through education, resources, and mass and social media campaigns to help the public be more aware of leptospirosis.
How Is My Dog Infected?
Your dog can be infected when it has direct contact with urine from an infected animal. However, Leptospira can be passed when dogs contact water or soil contaminated with infected urine. The bacteria can go through the soft lining of the nose, mouth, and eyelid, and can enter your dog’s body through the open sores and scratches in its skin.
Once your dog is infected, the Leptospira bacteria multiply in the bloodstream and moves into the tissues. The bacteria then damages the liver and kidney. Your dog’s immune system produces an antibody response to eliminate most of the Leptospira in the body about eight to 10 days after infection. Sadly, the damage done by the bacteria contributes to liver failure or kidney failure. In some cases, it can be both.
In severe cases, the damage cannot be undone and becomes fatal. But dogs usually recover from mild cases of leptospirosis, though recovery time varies. Small numbers of Leptospira survive in the dog’s body, especially in the kidney even if the dog appears well-recovered and healthy. This ongoing infection leads to the continuous shedding of bacteria in the urine, albeit in small numbers. Dogs that have recovered and carry the bacteria in their tissues are called carriers.
What Are the Symptoms of Leptospirosis?
If your dog is severely infected, it can suffer from lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and increased thirst and urination. It is also possible for your dog to develop jaundice, meaning the lining of its mouth and whites of its eyes turn yellow. There may be bleeding in some cases, but leptospirosis can be rapidly fatal in a span of days. If your dog is mildly infected, it may show little or no signs of the disease and may even be undetected.
Can It be Treated?
Antibiotics are usually effected in treating leptospirosis. In fact, most dogs respond to them as soon as they are administered. The first phase of antibiotic treatment involves clearing the most serious or acute infection from your dog’s body. The second phase eliminates the low-grade infection found in carriers.
If your dog has severe kidney or liver damage, it may require hospitalization for intravenous treatment and other therapy. If severely infected, prognosis may be guarded due to irreversible organ damage. This leads to rapid deterioration and death even if your dog receives appropriate treatment.
Can I Be Infected With Leptospirosis?
Yes. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Dr. Jerry Klein, CVO of the American Kennel Club (AKC), a recognized and trusted resource on dogs, recommended that owners exercise proper hygiene such as wearing protective gloves when cleaning up, preventing face licking and more. Proper hygiene should be followed even after your dog has recovered from leptospirosis.
Do note that prevention is best accomplished when you prevent your dog from drinking contaminated water. You can do this by sanitizing its environment by removing food and garbage that may attract feral cats, rats, and raccoons.
Owners should exercise caution when caring for an infected dog, as leptospirosis can be passed on from animals to humans. Infected dogs should be treated as soon as possible, though in severe cases, death may be inevitable even if the dog received proper treatment. Owners who feel unwell after taking care of an infected dog should consult a professional.