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Blog

Aug 28

Leptospirosis

What is leptospirosis and why is it so important to be knowledgeable about this prevalent zoonotic disease?

Leptospirosis is a disease of mammals caused by a spirochete bacterium that is unfortunately becoming quite prevalent. Leptospirosis is currently the most common infectious cause of acute kidney failure in dogs. Leptospira affects the kidneys and liver most frequently, but can also lead to respiratory signs as well as gastrointestinal upset, muscle pain, fever, increased thirst and loss of appetite. Many patients with leptospirosis respond to antibiotic therapy and supportive care, however mortality rate associated with infection can still be high (32% mortality rate in one study).

The bacteria is found in more than 150 mammalian species and can cause serious illness in both dogs and humans. There are approximately 250 different serovars of Leptospira, however about six to eight of these are believed to be pathogenic in the dog. Small mammals such as raccoons, skunks, mice, opossums, among others, maintain the disease. Leptospira organism is transmitted either through direct contact (infected urine, bite wounds, ingestion of infected tissue) or indirect contact (contact with contaminated water, soil, food or bedding). It is important to be made aware that people can become infected with Leptospira organism as well. Therefore, appropriate precautions should be taken at all times to minimize potential spread of the disease such as immediate initiation of treatment, taking all suitable measures to isolate affected animals, and practicing proper hygiene and appropriate use of disinfecting agents.  

Treatment of leptospirosis infection usually involves prolonged hospitalization with supportive care such as intravenous fluid administration, antibiotics, gastroprotectants, and pain medication. Occasionally, treatment of respiratory symptoms may be required. Hemodialysis, offered here at Friendship, can also be beneficial in dogs that develop low urine output or stop producing urine altogether.  

Vaccination is an effective and cost-efficient preventative measure to take against leptospirosis. At Friendship Hospital for Animals, the four-serovar leptospirosis vaccine is recommended in most dogs. However, the vaccination has been reported to be more likely to cause a reaction compared to other vaccines. It is important to remember that all vaccine recommendations are made based on each individual patient’s medical history and physical exam; therefore, we strongly encourage you to contact your Primary Care Doctor at FHA to discuss specific recommendations regarding the leptospirosis vaccination for your pup!


Dr. Schuyler Winstead Matthiesen was born and raised right here in the DC area. She has been a staff veterinarian since 2013, though her first FHA gig was as a veterinary technician. Dr. Matthiesen’s interests include endocrinology, preventative medicine and soft tissue surgery.


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