Leptospirosis in Dogs

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Leptospirosis in dogs is one of a dog owner's worst nightmares. Read about what leptospirosis is, what it can do to your dog, the symptoms and what you should do about it.

What is Canine Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that's spread through infected urine. The most common ways it infects dogs is through the urine of other dogs or through contact with mice or rats. Active working dogs are more at risk of contracting leptospirosis because they are more likely to come into contact with animals carrying it and they are also more likely to travel through moist and muddy areas where these bacteria thrive.

The bacteria primarily affect the dog's liver and kidneys and the effects can be serious if the dog is not given quick treatment by a professional vet.

Electron microscope view of leptospirosis in dogs.

Leptospirosis can also be passed to humans, although this is relatively rare. In humans it's more commonly known as Weil's disease.

What Are The Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Dogs?

These are some of the possible symptoms of canine leptospirosis. Remember that an infected dog may not show all of these symptoms, and many of these can be symptoms of other diseases than leptospirosis. It can take up to 3 weeks between infection and the first appearance of symptoms.

  • Eyes that appear discolored, jaundiced, or opaque
  • Obvious pain
  • Excessive thirst and hunger
  • Frequent urination and urination in inappropriate places
  • Rapid weight loss, even despite an increase in appetite
  • Off-color urine
  • High fever
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing

What Can You Do About Leptospirosis?

If left untreated, leptospirosis can lead to the development of more serious conditions such as meningitis. It can lead to renal failure (kidney failure) and liver failure, and eventually death.

Your dog should have been vaccinated against leptospirosis as a puppy. Dogs should have a booster shot for leptospirosis on a regular basis. It is generally accepted that this should happen once every year, although some vets have differing opinions on this. Discuss booster shots with a vet you trust before you make a decision.

Be aware also that even if a dog is vaccinated, it can still carry the disease. Leptospirosis can be carried by dogs even when they do not show symptoms. This is something to be careful of if you are introducing a new puppy to an older, apparently healthy dog, as there's a possibility the other dog may be a carrier.

If you suspect your dog is already infected with canine leptospirosis, take her to the vet immediately. The vet will have to perform some blood tests to confirm the presence of the bacteria.

If the vet diagnoses your dog with leptospirosis, it is highly likely that your dog will be given antibiotics to combat the infection. Most dogs that become infected with leptospirosis do survive, but this is dependent on quick treatment.

Remember: if you're ever in any doubt about your Jack Russell's health, be on the safe side and go to the vet.

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