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What is Canine Leptospirosis?

By J. Beam
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Amongst a group of diseases that dogs can contract is Canine Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is caused by leptospires, a type of bacterium called a spirochete. When examined microscopically, leptospira is shaped similar to a question mark. If the bacterium enter the bloodstream, a dog can be infected and develop canine leptospirosis.

A dog may become infected if an open wound or skin abrasion comes into contact with the urine of an infected host. Upon entering the bloodstream, symptoms such as fever, joint pain, and nausea occur. Once the organism reaches the kidney, reproduction occurs and can lead to inflammation, kidney failure, liver failure and death. Other symptoms include excessive bleeding caused by low platelet count, depression and loss of appetite or general malaise.

To help prevent the contraction of canine leptospirosis, dogs receive the lepto vaccine as part of routine puppy vaccinations and later the basic distemper vaccine. The vaccine is generally called DHLPP, with the L representing leptospirosis. Though the vaccine may not prevent all outbreaks, it is useful in the prevention of four strains by generating antibodies.

Leptospirosis is detected through blood testing. An infected dog may become ill, but treatment is possible as the bacteria causing the disease have thus far been sensitive to penicillin. Nonetheless, treatment of an infected dog often requires additional veterinarian intervention including intravenous fluids, tetracycline therapy and possibly hemodialysis. The success of treatment and prognosis depends largely upon the stage of treatment and extent of organ damage at the time of diagnosis. For this reason, routine dog vaccinations are important to the health of dogs.

Other animals can also become infected with leptospirosis, as can humans. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates approximately one-third of human cases are caused by dogs, while the remaining cases are caused by other animals, specifically rats. While vaccination against leptospirosis will reduce the severity of the disease should a dog contract it, it does not prevent the dog from becoming a carrier.

For puppies and dogs who receive the complete distemper vaccine, some reactions to vaccination are common and include soreness of the injection site, swelling of the injection site, and temporary loss of appetite or ill feeling. Difficulty breathing, hives or facial swelling should be reported to a veterinarian immediately. Although there has been some concern about increased vaccine reactions in some breeds of dogs, newer vaccines seem to have reduced these side effects. Veterinary experts generally recommend this vaccine.

For information on this and other bacteria-related diseases that affect dogs, talk to your veterinarian.

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Discussion Comments
By anon40934 — On Aug 11, 2009

Isn't Leptospirosis contracted mostly from rats and the vaccine is not generally given unless requested.

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