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Leptospirosis

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease that can pass from animals to humans. It is a bacterial disease that damages the liver and kidneys of dogs, sometimes resulting in renal failure and death. It is caused by a spirochete (spiral shaped bacterium) called a leptospire.

Leptospires live in fluids from infected animals, including urine, saliva, blood and milk. The disease is transmitted by direct contact with the fluids or with an infected animal. It is also transmitted by indirect contact such as vegetation, food and water, soil and bedding materials. Leptospires enter the body through mucous membranes or through breaks in the skin. The disease may be carried for years in animals without any apparent symptoms of the disease.

Any age, breed or sex of dog is susceptible to leptospirosis, although in general, young animals are more severely affected than adults. Large breed outdoor adult dogs are most commonly affected.

Leptospirosis can cause irreversible kidney damage, liver damage, uveitis (inflammation of the inner part of the eye), and damage to other organs.

What To Watch For

The first signs you might notice in your pet are flu-like symptoms. This may include several days of anorexia, vomiting, lethargy, depression and sometimes diarrhea or bloody urine. Other signs may include:

  • Chills and fever
  • Generalized muscle tenderness
  • Dehydration
  • Blood in the vomit or stool, bloody nose or widespread bruising
  • Jaundice
  • Labored breathing or coughing
  • Sudden lack of production of urine

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