View Full Version : Leptospirosis- The New Epidemic

02-02-2005, 10:16 PM
This was emailed to me this week. Not sure of validity, but just in case I thought that I would post it.

Leptospirosis- The New Epidemic

In the fall of 2003, one of my dogs started acting listless, and
wouldn’t eat. He also started urinating more frequently and had a
constant craving for water. I took him in for routine tests which
included a complete blood panel and urinalysis. Everything looked
fine. My veterinarian and I were baffled. The dog continued to get
worse and began to dehydrate. He lay curled in a ball and had a slight
fever. We started IV fluid therapy, but my vet had no idea what he was
looking at or how to treat it. We tried a series of lab tests which
included a tick disease panel and fungal panels. All came back

In desperation, I started searching the internet for any illness I could
find with these symptoms. One thing started popping up over and over, and
it was leptospirosis. However, all the sites I read talked about elevated
liver enzymes, which did not show up in this dog's blood panel results.

Then, another one of my dogs became sick with the same symptoms. I went
back to researching leptospirosis and found that there were nine
different strains, and two of them did not affect the liver, but had a
delayed reaction in attacking the kidneys. While the first dog’s kidney
levels were fine, I had my vet re-test them. And there it was -- this dog
had elevated BUN, creatinine and phosphorus. We quickly took a blood
sample from both dogs and sent them off for a lepto titer. This test took
several days, so we went ahead and started both dogs on Penicillin which
is the treatment of choice for lepto. We continued the IV therapy for
both dogs, as leptospirosis in any form causes dehydration. Re-hydrating
an affected dog is paramount for treatment.

The tests came back positive for both dogs for a strain of leptospirosis
called Grippotyphosa. It also showed another strain called Pomona, but
often one or more strains will show up as a cross positive. It is the
highest titer number which is the strain that is involved. My
veterinarian was shocked, but I was relieved to know that we now had a
diagnosis and a protocol for a treatment course.

I hope this article provides you with information about leptospirosis,
its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Most veterinarians are
familiar with the two most common forms of leptospirosis, but the newer
strains are often missed in diagnosis and simply seen as chronic renal
failure. With the correct diagnosis, leptospirosis is not only treatable,
but treatment is highly successful.

What is Leptospirosis?

It is a bacterium, most commonly found in urine from affected
animals. Dogs can get this from drinking stagnant water or licking areas
where affected animals have urinated. Male dogs are more commonly
affected than females (probably due to their habits). Also, dogs
with lowered immune systems are also vulnerable. Lepto is most common in
the spring and fall, or during a rainy season. It typically can't survive
when temperatures are above 80 degrees or when it freezes.

Since I live in Texas, summers are too hot for these bacteria to survive.
Both of my dogs contracted lepto in late October. After careful
observation, we realized they had probably gotten this disease from the
squirrels in our yard. Rats and other wildlife can also carry this

It takes 4 to 12 days from transmission of this disease to the dog
showing symptoms.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

First symptoms are usually lethargy, minor fever and shivering. This
fever can increase to 104 or 105. The dog will refuse to eat and may show
painful joints or muscles. Some may get reddening or infection of the
eyes. Two types of leptospirosis known as Pomona and icterohaemorrhagiae
will show elevated liver enzymes and possibly symptoms of jaundice. But
in the two strains that are less common, kidney blood levels will elevate
along with the symptoms of frequent urination and increased water
consumption. These are known as L. canicola and L. grippotyphosa.
Grippotyphosa was once thought to be uncommon, but in 1998 several dogs
became ill in Long lsland, NY. Almost 150 were found infected with the
grippotyphosa strain. It was thought this strain was isolated to the NE,
but now it has been reported throughout the United States and Canada.


This is done with a blood sample sent off to a laboratory for a
leptospirosis titer. This will measure the amount of leptospirosis
antibodies present in the blood sample along with identifying the correct
strain. Note that lepto titers often will not increase until the dog is
in the recovery phase. If you test when the dog first becomes ill, the
results may not be accurate, so when lepto is suspected, it is best to
begin treatment with penicillin and fluids immediately, then confirm the
diagnosis with a titer test a week or two later.


The first action is IV therapy. This is needed to take care of the
severe dehydration, as well as keep the kidneys functioning well. Both of
my dogs were on IV therapy for five to seven days. Penicillin is the
antibiotic of choice. Generally treatment is recommended for three weeks.
Doxycycline is followed for another two to three weeks, as this will stop
the bacteria from being shed and transmitted in the dog’s urine.


Some modes of prevention are to make sure that any areas that the
dogs are kept are drained well and that there is no standing water.
Protect water bowls and buckets from squirrels and other wildlife. At
present, there are vaccinations for four strains of leptospirosis.
However, these vaccinations are only good for about four months, and the
lepto vaccine does have many side effects, which include anaphylactic
shock. Due to the necessity of repeated vaccinations and its serious side
effects, the Kansas State University of Veterinary Medicine no longer
supports vaccinating for this disease. They state:

1) The disease has become quite rare in the urban dog.

2) A more important reason is the frequency with which we see
hives, facial swelling and even life-threatening vaccination reactions
called anaphylaxis when we give vaccine “cocktails” that contain
leptospirosis bacteria. The “L” in DHLP, the most common vaccine
cocktail, stands for leptospirosis. These reactions can be very mild or
severe enough to cause death. These reactions do not occur on the initial
vaccination but do increasingly on succeeding vaccinations.

3) The third reason is that the vaccines against leptospirosis are
not that effective in preventing the disease and may actually facilitate
carrier states.

Given this information, it would be up to the dog owner to decide the
best option for their dogs. I personally have decided not to vaccinate,
and instead I watch for symptoms and keep myself familiar with the
symptoms of leptospirosis. I know that it is treatable with penicillin,
but it must be caught quickly to make treatment effective. I cannot make
this recommendation for everyone, and each of us has to make the best
decision and responsible choice for where we live, the health of our dogs
and of course, to not spread this disease to other dogs. Do note that
leptospirosis is most common in spring and fall, so vaccinations would
need to be made accordingly. Also, if one dog has it in your home,
chances are that all of your dogs are affected. They may not show the
symptoms, but they are most likely carriers of this disease. Since I own
15 dogs, it means I had to treat the rest of my dogs with penicillin and
then follow up with doxycycline. This was not inexpensive, but certainly
necessary to keep all the dogs healthy, but also to make sure they
weren't carrying this disease to spread to other dogs. Note that
vaccinations do not cover all strains of lepto, so even if your dogs have
been vaccinated recently, they can still get the disease.

Here are some links to web sites with more information on leptospirosa in