Leptospirosis can cause acute renal failure in dogs. Some may recover after prolonged intensive care in the hospital, while others may not survive or survive with permanent renal function impairment. Leptospirosis can also cause liver damage, uveitis, respiratory disease, vasculitis, and bleeding disorders. In addition, because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, family members, the veterinary healthcare team, and other animals are at risk for infection..
Leptospirosis is a global disease and is likely present throughout most of the United States (except for true desert regions). It is more prevalent in warm, wet, and humid climates. Most dogs are exposed to leptospirosis in environments contaminated by urine of wild-animal hosts, including raccoons, opossums, mice, voles, rats, skunks, squirrels, deer, and foxes.
I own a small-breed dog that only goes outside to urinate and defecate. How could she be exposed to leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is not limited to large-breed or outdoor dogs. If a dog goes outside, she could be exposed— all it takes is contact with one wild animal’s contaminated urine. If you see squirrels, skunks, opossums, raccoons, mice, voles, deer, or foxes in your neighborhood, any of these animals could be spreading the infection.
Should I be concerned about the side effects of the leptospirosis vaccine?
Older vaccines against leptospirosis contained proteins that sometimes caused a reaction in dogs. The reactions were not always serious, but owners were still concerned, and veterinarians understood those concerns. Fortunately, newer vaccines are more purified and result in fewer reactions.
Do the leptospirosis vaccines really work? I have heard they only protect for a few months and have to be repeated frequently.
Some excellent studies have shown that the vaccines protect for at least one year.
What happens if my dog is not vaccinated and gets sick with leptospirosis? Is it treatable?
There are many possibilities, from mild signs you may not even notice to sudden death. Most dogs that get sick with leptospirosis will develop kidney failure or liver damage. Sometimes the kidney failure is severe enough that dialysis is required. Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, but with severe infections, significant organ damage may occur before antibiotics can clear the infection. Leptospirosis can also damage the eyes, lungs, and blood vessels, causing unusual signs that can be difficult to diagnose.
Veterinary Team Brief, 2013