Understanding Leptospirosis: Protecting Your Pet and Your Family

| November 30, 2023

Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection that can pose a threat to both our furry friends and human family members. This potentially life-threatening disease can cause acute kidney and liver damage in dogs.  

In dogs, leptospirosis can manifest in various ways, making it a challenging disease to detect. Symptoms range from fever with bruising and bleeding to different degrees of kidney and liver failure, chronic hepatitis, and eye inflammation. The disease is caused by different Leptospira serovars, each presenting unique challenges and affecting specific geographic areas. 

Surprisingly, while dogs are susceptible, cats with leptospirosis rarely show clinical signs. However, studies have revealed elevated levels of leptospiral antibodies in various cat populations, emphasizing the need for vigilance. 

How Leptospirosis Spreads

Leptospires thrive in warm, slow-moving water, making areas after heavy rains or flooding potential hotspots. Wildlife, particularly rats and raccoons, often act as carriers of the infection. Recent incidents, like the 2021 outbreak in Los Angeles boarding facilities, highlight that anywhere with potential urine contact can become a breeding ground for Leptospira organisms. 

Dogs can become infected through irritated or cut skin coming into contact with contaminated urine or water. Additionally, bite wounds, exposure to reproductive secretions, and even the consumption of infected tissues can transmit the infection. 

Likelihood of Infection

Traditionally, leptospirosis was associated with rural lifestyles. However, recent studies, such as the 2022 paper Canine leptospirosis in Canada, looking at Leptospira testing data from a large reference laboratory, indicate a shift. Of the samples submitted for Leptospira testing, the highest test positive proportions were found in Nova Scotia (18.5%) and Ontario (9.6%). Male toy breed dogs less than 1 year of age from urban practices showed the greatest odds of testing positive. 

Vaccination: A Vital Defence

The American Animal Hospital Association vaccine guidelines consider vaccination against leptospirosis to be optional but recommends if you are going to vaccinate, using a vaccine covering all four serovars. 

While considered a non-core vaccine, its regional importance makes it essential for dogs living in or traveling to areas where leptospirosis is present. Vaccination is a safe and effective measure, offering protection against a disease that can be both severe and costly to treat. Vaccination is available at your local veterinary clinic or at Toronto Humane Society’s Public Veterinary Services 

Leptospirosis vaccines are killed vaccines, typically administered in two initial doses 2-4 weeks apart, followed by yearly boosters. These vaccines cover specific serovars—Canicola, Grippotyphosa, Pomona, and Icterohaemorragiae. Recent advancements, such as vaccines produced from leptospires grown in protein-free media, have reduced the likelihood of vaccine reactions. 

Human Risk and Prevention

Humans can also contract leptospirosis, with contact with infected dogs and rats being common sources. Recreational activities involving water, exposure to floodwaters, and certain occupations like farm and animal care work pose a higher risk. 

Preventive measures, such as controlling rodents and eliminating standing water, are important in both human and pet environments. 

Learn More

For more information on leptospirosis and how to protect your pets and family, visit Worms and Germs Blog. 

In conclusion, understanding and preventing leptospirosis is vital for the well-being of our beloved pets and our families. By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, we can create a safer environment for everyone.