Leptospirosis is a worldwide problem that can express itself as both a rapid onset condition as well as a chronic condition. Leptospira organisms can penetrate intact or cut skin as well as mucus membranes, invade the bloodstream, and spread to all parts of the body resulting in fever, transitory anemia, loss of protein and blood in the urine. The organism targets the kidney and liver specifically. Death can occur from kidney failure.
There are four different commonly seen strains or serovars of Leptospira. Most infections of Leptospira in dogs are subclinical or inapparent and therefore are often undiagnosed. Areas that are wet and warm are more likely to support this organism. The incidence is highest with young dogs in city environments. Clinical signs vary depending on a multitude of factors. In the chronic form of the disease the organism is shed in the urine and you may or may not see a fever of undetermined origin and excessive drinking and urinating.
The diagnosis of Leptospirosis should be suspected when there is evidence of blood loss, kidney disease or elevated liver enzymes, singly or in combination. Antibody levels can be tested on each of the four commonly seen serovars to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment of an otherwise stable patient is with penicillin or doxycycline. More severe cases need to be hospitalized.
Vaccines often contain only two of the common serovars and are effective for only 6-8 months period of time. There is available a second vaccine that contains the additional serovars of Leptospira should you feel your pet is at a higher risk. Those dogs that are hunters, show dogs, and near ponds may wish to consider this additional vaccine. Side effects to the vaccine have been reported. There is a potential for this disease to spread to humans. While this disease has always been present in Connecticut it has remained at a low level. Recently there has been an increase in the cases reported. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are concerned.