Cedar Pet Clinic vets have reviewed a new report, based on a literature review, which offers a consensus opinion on leptospirosis and provides evidence-based justification for recommendations regarding the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of this disease. This consensus statement was presented at the 2010 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) forum and was published in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
"While we should still suspect leptospirosis in dogs with kidney or liver disease, the clinical presentation of leptospirosis can vary widely. Some dogs may not even show signs of clinical illness, while others will become severely ill and ultimately die of the disease. Dogs with renal involvement may have signs typical of renal disease such as increased water consumption, increased urinarion, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is important to note, however, that infected dogs not in kidney failure may show similar symptoms. Dogs that present with liver involvement may show signs of jaundice, vomiting or diarrhea. Respiratory signs may also be present.
"Typically, dogs become infected with leptospirosis by exposure to contaminated water, soil, food, or bedding. Dogs that drink from or are exposed to rivers, streams, or lakes may have an increased risk; however, it is important to note that even dogs in urban environments may contract the illness. In areas where wild animal species (such as raccoons, opossums, deer, fox, coyote and even rodents) access suburban backyards, all dogs may be at risk.
"Diagnosis of leptospirosis is difficult and testing is not totally accurate. Dogs frequently are treated based on symptoms and screening blood tests that do not confirm the disease.
"Treatment plans depend on the severity of the disease. If the patient is able to take oral medications, doxycycline should be administered for two weeks. Other antibiotics may be effective but are not the drug of choice.
"The prognosis for dogs that are treated appropriately and aggressively and that do not have complicating respiratory involvement is good. Blood test for kidney function would be expected to return to normal by two weeks, although it may take more than four weeks in some cases. In some dogs, permanent kidney damage may occur.
"Most human cases of leptospirosis in the United States result from recreational water activities. The incidence of transmission from pet contact is low; however, while the risks of human exposure require further study, appropriate handling of these patients is warranted.
"The consensus panel recommends that dogs considered to be at risk for leptospirosis infection be vaccinated annually with the leptospirosis vaccine that contains the four most common vaccine types."
That's the recommendation of the Cedar Pet Clinic vets, too. In our area, all our dog patients are at risk of wild animal contact and exposure to water contaminated by wild animals, and should be vaccinated for leptospirosis.