“Lepto” is the short name for a bacterial infection called leptospirosis. Leptospira are a group of bacteria that can cause kidney disease. Wildlife, especially raccoons, carry the bacteria without becoming ill from the infection. “Lepto” infection is spread when infected wildlife urinate where other animals may drink. Dogs, cattle and humans have the highest risk of becoming ill from drinking contaminated water. In cattle, “lepto” infection is most commonly associated with abortions. In dogs, the infection can lead to life-threatening kidney failure as the bacteria attack the kidneys.
Fortunately, there is a rapid, in-clinic test to detect active infection by Leptospira in dogs. Treatment is supportive: fluids and antibiotics. Time is the most important thing – the sooner an infected dog is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better the outcome. Once the infection is treated, the infected dog can carry the bacteria for the rest of its life – because humans can be infected by Leptospira, this poses a human health risk (called zoonosis).
There are vaccines to protect against “lepto” infection. But, because there are many strains of the bacteria, which vaccine your veterinarian uses can be very important. Some companies include 2 strains of the bacteria in their dog vaccine. There is one vaccine that protects against 4 strains of “lepto” in the dog. This vaccine is labeled for annual boosters. However, some cattle herds must vaccinate every 3 months in order to protect their cattle from the infection! This information suggests it depends on how much wildlife is in the area and how aggressive the particular bacterial strain is to know if the vaccine will really protect a dog from “lepto” infection.
Dogs infected with Leptospira will vomit and have a fever due to the infection. Bloodwork usually will show infection and high kidney values. An additional test is needed to prove it is a “lepto” infection. For this reason, it’s always a great idea to have your veterinarian analyze bloodwork if your dog has a fever and is vomiting – for proper diagnosis.