Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Cats

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by spirochetes. Spirochetes are a spiral-shaped bacteria that infect the body by burrowing in through the skin. Leptospirosis can affect the central nervous system, eyes, liver, kidneys and reproductive organs. Learn more about leptospirosis in cats, its diagnosis, symptoms and treatment.

Leptospirosis Explained

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of cats that can also spread to dogs and humans. The bacteria that cause leptospirosis Leptospira interrogans, Leptospira grippotyphosa and Leptospira pomona. These spirochete bacteria are shaped like corkscrews and they infect the body by tunneling in through the skin. The disease they cause can lead to serious complications and even death.

Leptospirosis is most common in hot, humid environments. The spirochete bacteria that cause it thrive in stagnant water. Cats are often exposed to the bacteria through contact with contaminated mud or water, or infected animals. Most cases develop during the autumn.

Cats who live on farms or near tracts of woodland are at an increased risk of leptospirosis. Cats who have been kept in close quarters with other cats or dogs who may have been infected, such as at a boarding kennel, shelter or veterinary hospital, may be at an increased risk of developing leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is, however, considered rare in cats.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis bacteria can spread throughout the body, damaging almost every vital system. The eyes, kidneys, liver, reproductive organs and central nervous system are vulnerable to damage by this parasitic bacteria. The severity of infection can depend on your cat's overall state of health before he contracted the infection. Young cats and cats with lowered immunity are more likely to experience serious infection and complications.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include:

  • Fever
  • Stiff gait
  • Muscle stiffness, especially in the legs
  • Muscle soreness, painful movement
  • Depression, weakness, loss of appetite
  • Trembling
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea and vomiting, possibly bloody
  • Runny nose
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes and mucous membranes
  • Red spots on the gums
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin
  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Rapid breathing, irregular pulse, labored breathing, coughing

Diagnosing and Treating Leptospirosis in Cats

Your vet will need a complete medical history and thorough physical exam in order to diagnose leptospirosis. Blood tests and urinalysis will be necessary. If you think your cat may have been exposed to the bacteria that cause leptospirosis, tell your vet. 

Leptospirosis is contagious to humans and can be a dangerous infection, especially in children, pregnant women and those with lowered immunity. Your vet will advise you to wear gloves when handling your cat and to treat your cat's bodily waste as a hazardous substance. Keep your sick cat isolated from other household members and pets.

If your cat's leptospirosis symptoms are severe, he'll need to be hospitalized for care. He may need fluid therapy, antiemetics, blood transfusions or a feeding tube. Whether or not your cat is hospitalized, he will need a course of antibiotics to treat his infection. The type of antibiotic used will depend on the strength and severity of your cat's infection. A typical course of antibiotics lasts about four weeks. 

A vaccine is available for those animals who have a high risk of contracting leptospirosis. Talk to your vet about having your cat vaccinated.