Tips from the Vet for Your Pet: Leptospirosis
By Stewart Morgan, Ph.D., D.V.M.
Leptospirosis is a disease that can make both people and their pets sick and can result in death. It is found worldwide and is present on Molokai. Leptospirosis is spread by a bacterium (species of bacteria) that infects animal kidneys. The bacterium is released in the urine of infected animals. People and most common pet and farm animal species can catch this disease; cats are one species that is resistant to leptospirosis.
Animals and people can become infected with the disease through cuts in their skin, or through oral (mouth) or venereal (sexual) contact. Eating food contaminated with leptospirosis bacteria (like raw meat) or being bitten by an animal with leptospirosis can also spread the disease. Leptospirosis bacteria are most stable in moist warm environments; any river, stream, pond or source of water that may become contaminated with urine from infected animals is a possible source of infection.
It is impossible to diagnosis leptospirosis just by a physical examination because the clinical signs (symptoms) can be similar to many other diseases. Animals that have leptospirosis can refuse to eat, be lethargic, have a fever, vomit, urinate a lot and drink a lot or not urinate at all, can have diarrhea, and have pain in their abdomen. Liver disease can result from leptospirosis infection. In some animals, abortions or infertility may be the only things that indicate infection with leptospirosis. The best way of diagnosing leptospirosis is through testing blood and urine for signs of infection.
In dogs and farm animals, vaccinations are the best defense against leptospirosis, other than keeping animals completely away from any sources of infection (which is close to impossible!). Vaccines protect animals from the most common types of leptospirosis, called serovars. These vaccines protect against disease from serovars (but not others) for up to a year, so need to be given annually.
Rodents, such as rats and mice, are major carriers of leptospirosis. Eliminating populations of these vermin from around your residence and workplace and keeping them away from your animals is important in preventing leptospirosis. Wearing gloves when dressing game such as pig and deer is also helpful in preventing the spread of this disease.