Bacterial Infection in Dogs (Leptospirosis)

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which dogs get when subspecies of the Leptospira interrogans infiltrate the skin and spread round the body via the bloodstream. Two of the most commonly seen members of this subspecies are the L. grippotyphosa and L. Pomonabacteria. Spirochetes are spiral, or corkscrew-shaped bacteria which penetrate the system by digging into the skin.

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Leptospires spread all over the whole body, reproducing in the kidneys, eyes, liver, central nervous system, and reproductive system. Soon after initial infection, fever and bacterial infection of the blood may develop. These symptoms may resolve with the reactive response of antibodies, which clear the spirochetes from most of the system. The degree to which this bacteria affects the organs will depend on the immune system of your dog and its ability to fully get rid of the infection. Even then, Leptospira spirochetes can remain in the kidneys, reproducing there and infecting the urine. Infection of the liver or kidneys can be deadly for animals if the infection progresses, causing severe damage to these organs. Younger animals with less developed immune systems are at the highest risk for severe complications. The Leptospira spirochete bacteria can be transmitted to humans and other animals.

Symptoms and Types of Leptospirosis in Dogs

  • Shivering
  • Weakness
  • Sudden fever and illness
  • Sore muscles, reluctance to move
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stiffness in muscles, legs, stiff gait
  • Increased thirst and urination, may be indicative of chronic renal (kidney) failure, progressing to inability to urinate
  • Rapid dehydration
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea – with or without blood in stool
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Mild swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Dark red speckled gums (petechiae)
  • Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes – anemic symptoms
  • Spontaneous cough
  • Swelling of the mucous membrane

Causes Leptospirosis in Dogs

The Leptospira spirochete infection mainly occurs in subtropical, tropical, and wet environments. Leptospira spirochetes are mostly found in marshy/muddy areas which have stagnant surface water and are patronized by wildlife. Heavily irrigated pastures are also common sources of infection. Dogs come into contact with the bacteria in infected water, soil, or mud, while swimming, passing through, or drinking contaminated water, or from coming into contact with urine from an infected animal. Dogs that have spent a long time in a kennel are only at risk.

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Diagnosing Leptospirosis in Dogs

Your veterinarian will be careful when handling your pet, and will strongly advise you to do the same. Protective latex gloves must be worn at all times, and all body fluids will be treated as a biologically hazardous material. Urine, semen, and any fluid that leaves the body of dogs will need to be handled with great care.

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You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including a background history of symptoms, recent activities that might have caused this condition. The history may give your veterinarian clues as to what stage of infection your dog is experiencing, and which organs are being most affected.

Your veterinarian may order the following tests; chemical blood profile, urinalysis, complete blood count, an electrolyte panel, and a fluorescent antibody urine test. Urine and blood cultures will also be examined for the dominance of the bacteria. A microscopic agglutination test, or titer test, will also be performed to measure the body’s immune response to the infection.

Treatment for Leptospirosis in Dogs

Dogs with severe symptoms of the disease should be hospitalized. Fluid therapy will be administered to reverse any effects of dehydration. If your dog has been vomiting, an anti-vomiting drug, called an antiemetic, may be given to them. If your dog is unable to eat, a gastric tube can be used to nourish them. A blood transfusion may also be necessary if your dog has been hemorrhaging severely.

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Antibiotics will be prescribed by your veterinarian, with the type of antibiotic dependent on the stage of infection. Penicillins can be used for initial infections, but they are not effective for eliminating the bacteria once it has reached the carrier stage. Tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, or similar antibiotics will be recommended for this stage, since they are better distributed into the bone tissue. Antibiotics will be prescribed for a course of at least four weeks. Some antibiotics may have side effects. Ensure to read all of the warnings that come with the prescription, and talk to your veterinarian about the indications you will need to watch for.


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