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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Mohon-Sturch

Leptospirosis – What is it and should I be worried?

What is it?

Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection that, while very rare in cats, can be contracted by dogs, farm animals, and other mammals, rodents, and marsupials. The Leptospira bacteria is often found in rural areas and farming communities, though continuing data on the bacteria tell us that it’s on the rise in urban areas. An interesting finding is that in urban communities, terriers or smaller dogs tend to contract Leptospirosis more than larger breeds.


How does Leptospirosis spread?

The Leptospira bacteria can live and reproduce in watery areas or in what is called a natural or disease reservoir, in other words, a host. The disease reservoir can be an animal, such as a raccoon or rat, and it can pass on the bacteria through its urine. Dogs and other mammals can contract the bacteria through mucus membranes or through their skin and are much more at risk if they have open wounds while exposed to the bacteria. It is also important to know that this disease is zoonotic which means it can be passed on from animals to humans. As a matter of fact, Leptospirosis is the most common zoonotic disease in the world.


Should I be concerned?

The good news for New Mexicans is that Leptospirosis is not common in arid regions. Leptospira thrives in tropical or marshy and muddy areas. In the United States, it’s more commonly found on the East and West coasts and in humid Southern regions. However, there were 7 reported cases of Leptospirosis in 2022 in New Mexico so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your pup and speak with your veterinarian if you have any concerns. (To reiterate, it is uncommon for cats to contract the disease.)


Dogs most at risk for contracting the disease are:

· hunting or sporting dogs

· farm dogs

· dogs often in kennels

· dogs that live in or near wooded areas




What are some of the symptoms of Leptospirosis?

Dogs exposed to the Leptospira bacteria may have one or more of the following symptoms:

· Lethargy or weakness

· Fever

· Diarrhea

· Vomiting

· Difficulty breathing

· Bloody vaginal discharge

· Lack of appetite

· Increased thirst and urination

· Rapid pulse

· Yellowing of skin or whites of eyes

· Stiffness of muscles


Depending on the dog’s age and immune system, Leptospirosis can be fatal if left untreated. Leptospirosis mainly attacks the liver and kidneys, but also the nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. If you are concerned that your dog may have contracted Leptospirosis, contact your veterinarian.


How is testing done for Leptospirosis?

Testing is done through a blood panel and urinalysis.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of Leptospirosis depends on the progression of the disease. Usually, the treatment consists of IV fluids to combat dehydration and at least a four-week course of antibiotics to fight the bacteria. Animals with more severe infections will often need to be hospitalized and may need a blood transfusion if they experienced major hemorrhaging.


Should I have my dog vaccinated against Leptospirosis?

There is a yearly vaccination for Leptospirosis, but the decision to vaccinate against it is a conversation for you and your veterinarian. If your dog is at low risk for the disease and you live in an arid state like New Mexico, it may not be necessary. But if you have a dog that loves to swim and is active around wooded areas or farms, it might be worth looking into.


WORDS TO KNOW

  • Leptospira: A bacteria (or pathogen) found worldwide in water and soil.

  • Leptospirosis: A disease in mammals caused by an infection from the Leptospira bacteria.

  • Zoonosis/zoonotic: A disease that is transmitted from animal to human.

  • Natural or Disease Reservoir: The host or environment in which a pathogen thrives.


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