Leptospirosis:common questions

Why should I be concerned about leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure in dogs. Some may recover after prolonged intensive care in the hospital, while others may not survive or survive with permanent kidney function impairment. Leptospirosis can also cause liver damage, eye disease, respiratory disease, blood vessel disease, and bleeding disorders. In addition, because leptospirosis is shed in the urine and a zoonotic disease(transmissable to people),  family members, the veterinary healthcare team, and other family pets are at risk for infection.

Is leptospirosis  a problem in my area?
Leptospirosis is a global disease and is prevalent in southeastern Michigan. It is more common in warm, wet weather, making spring and fall high risk times of the year for transmission.  Most dogs are exposed to leptospirosis in soil or water 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 at all, they 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 veterinarians understand owners concerns. Fortunately,  newer vaccines are more purified and result in less frequent and  milder reactions when they do occur.

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. Our practice recommends a yearly booster after the initial course of vaccines. We also recommend vaccines that protect against 4 strains of leptospirosis, rather than older vaccines that only protected against 2 strains.

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 hospitalization and fluid therapy 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.