Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that primarily affects the liver and kidneys, and if not treated can be deadly. There are three main forms of leptospirosis, hemorrhagic (bleeding), icteric or jaundice (liver), and renal (kidney).
The leptospira bacteria is mostly carried by rats or rodents, but can affect almost any mammalian species (including humans). Leptospirosis is most commonly contracted by ingestion of infected urine, or rodent-contaminated garbage. Some forms of the bacteria can also penetrate damaged or thin skin.
The incubation period (from infection to clinical signs) is most commonly four to twelve days. Many leptospira infections go undetected. Some symptoms may include, high fever, lethargy, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, loss of apetite, yellow color (in mouth, whites of eyes or in severe cases the skin), and excessive drinking and urination (there may also be blood in urine).
Because the clinical signs and symptoms are variable and easily confused with other diseases, the diagnosis can be difficult. Unfortunately there are no available rapid diagnostic laboratory tests. Blood testing to detect antibodies against leptospira interrogans can be performed.
The vaccine for leptospirosis is not always part of the routine vaccines for dogs, but is available. Discuss with your veterinarian the benefits of the leptospirosis vaccine at your next visit