Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospirosis in dogs is an infectious disease that can lead to liver disease, kidney failure and possible death. This disease is contagious and easily passed to dogs from the urine of other infected animals. Carriers of leptospirosis can be rats, skunks, raccoons, domestic livestock, cats, dogs and people.

Puppies younger than 6 months are more likely to experience life-threatening kidney or liver disease, but death is possible in dogs of any age. Vaccinations are available to prevent certain strains of leptospirosis. There are over 200 documented strains of this infection currently known, 8 of which have been proven to cause infection in dogs. Vaccinations have been developed only for protection against 2 to 4 of these strains. This particular vaccination protects from infection for about 6 to 8 months, and carries a much higher risk of vaccine reaction than other viral vaccinations. 

Leptospirosis Infection

Dogs may become infected with leptospirosis by coming into contact with another infected animal's urine. This bacteria can be contracted from ponds, or other standing water, by penetration of mucous membranes or skin abrasions. This infection can also be spread through bite wounds or ingestion of infected substances. Leptospira bacteria multiply rapidly and spread through the bloodstream to other tissue areas including the liver, kidneys, nervous system, eyes and genital tract.

Dogs with a healthy immune system will generally be successful in clearing this infection from most organ tissue, however, the antibody released by the immune system may not reach the microscopic tubes of the kidneys. The bacteria will hide there and pass through the dog's urine for days, months or years. At times, the infection will not cause any apparent symptoms, but will still be contagious. It is not clear, in this case, if long-term health of the kidneys is affected. Dogs that experience kidney failure caused by chronic kidney inflammation may be host to leptospirosis without showing apparent symptoms for many years.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

While some dogs may carry this bacteria for years without showing symptoms, other dogs may show sudden symptoms or signs of infection 4 to 12 days after contraction of the disease. This disease progresses differently in each dog, so typical symptoms may or may not be present. Initial signs of leptospirosis infection are shivering, joint or abdominal pain and fever. Commonly, dogs will experience loss of appetite and vomiting leading to rapid dehydration.

You may notice other signs such as drooling, eye inflammations, nervous system abnormalities or discolored urine. Severely infected dogs can develop hypothermia and die before kidney or liver failure has a chance to develop. After 2 to 3 weeks of infection, dogs will either begin to improve, or show signs of chronic renal or liver failure. Antibiotic therapy may be used to treat initial symptoms, and also to control or prevent long-term carrying and potential spread of the infection. Intravenous fluids and other means of fluid therapy may be necessary to correct dehydration and flush out toxins from the body.