Sick as a dogLeptospirosis is not a disease that most people are familiar with, yet this relatively common bacterial disease is on the rise. It is a serious infection not only affects our pets but can infect people as well. Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterial organism that is found in the urine and bodily fluids of infected animals. Because a leptospirosis infection can be so devastating, it is important for all pet owners to understand what it is and how it can be prevented.

How does a person or pet become infected?

Urine from an infected animal (including wild animals such as raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and deer) contaminates water and soil in the area. Pets may become infected when these contaminated substances make contact with the skin or mucous membranes.

What happens if my pet contracts leptospirosis?

The leptospirosis bacteria affects the kidneys and liver. Once infected, pets may develop a fever, have vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and other nonspecific signs. If they are not treated most pets will become very sick and may even die.

How do people get leptospirosis?

People may be exposed to leptospirosis in the environment just like pets. They may also contract it from their sick pet. Approximately one-third of human cases come from exposure to infected dogs.

Can it be treated?

Because leptospirosis is a bacteria, we are able to use antibiotics to kill it. Once diagnosed, leptospirosis patients are treated with penicillin followed by another antibiotic called doxycycline, which stops the bacteria from being shed into the environment. Permanent damage done to the liver or kidneys is not reversible.

How can I prevent leptospirosis?

You can minimize exposure to leptospirosis by discouraging wild animals, especially rodents, from living on your property. If possible, eliminate standing water as well. There is also a vaccination for leptospirosis that most pets should receive. Although the vaccine does not provide 100% immunity, it can decrease the severity of infection.