Recently in Melbourne a case of leptospirosis was identified in a dog. Leptospirosis is not a disease seen very commonly in Melbourne, so you may have some questions about this disease. We’re hoping this post will answer most of them, if not all.

What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is the disease caused by bacteria in the Leptospira species. Leptospira bacteria are found worldwide, including in Australia. The bacteria live best in warm, damp conditions and outbreaks are common in area which have had recent flooding. It’s generally rare in Australia however there have been recent outbreaks in New South Wales that have put this disease in the spotlight.
Leptospirosis can affect many species of animal, including dogs and humans.

How does leptospirosis spread?
Leptospirosis is a pretty hardy bacteria and can invade the body in many ways. It can invade through mucous membranes (tissue that lines the body cavities like the inside of the mouth), abrasions in the skin, or by ingesting contaminated material like water or vegetation.
The bacteria can live in water, mud, soil, plants and also exist in the urine and faeces of infected animals. The most important thing to know about leptospirosis is that it is zoonotic – it can spread directly from animals to humans.

Is leptospirosis dangerous?
It can be. In dogs it can be totally asymptomatic – the bacteria has been found in the urine of dogs that are totally healthy. However sometimes it can cause serious illness.
The signs of leptospirosis in dogs can be very vague, and vary from fatigue, fever and weight loss to acute renal and liver failure. The earlier signs of leptospirosis can look very similar to a lot of other diseases, so it’s always worth getting a sick pet checked by a vet.

Can it be treated?
Yes. Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, however if disease is serious there may be ongoing complications for a sick pet.

Is there a vaccine for leptospirosis?
Yes, there is a vaccination available against leptospirosis in Australia, however stocks are currently quite low due to serious outbreaks in New South Wales this year. The vaccination does not stop a vaccinated animal from carrying the bacteria or excreting it in their urine, but it does reduce the risk of life-threatening disease and organ failure if an infection does occur. The vaccine also does not cover against every species of Leptospira, just the ones most common in Australia.
The leptospirosis vaccination is not a core vaccination in Australian dogs – it’s entirely optional, and you can consider it if your dog is at risk. A discussion with your veterinarian may help you make a decision about the vaccination for your pet.

Is my dog at risk?
Dogs that are exposed to the following may be at risk of leptospirosis:

  • Dogs with access to contaminated or unfiltered water (lakes, streams, standing ponds)
  • Exposure to urine from infected animals (most commonly in rescue or shelter situations)
  • Exposure to wildlife that may be infected (most commonly rats)
  • Eating contaminated raw meat or offal

How do I protect myself if this can spread to humans?
Human medicine isn’t our strong suit as veterinarians! Good hygiene practices such as washing your hands thoroughly with soap after cleaning up after your pet, avoiding swimming in possibly contaminated water, and good rodent control are important.
The New South Wales government has a fantastic fact sheet with more information about leptospirosis in humans HERE. If you have any further questions about your leptospirosis risk we encourage you to speak to your GP.

 

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