Leptospirosis, often referred to as lepto, is caused by a bacteria not a virus. Dogs can become infected if they come into contact with infected urine, or by contaminated water, so if your dog likes to swim or is partial to drink from stagnant water or canals they can be at risk, especially in areas with high numbers of rats. There are many different strains of leptospirosis and humans can get it as well (called Weil’s disease). It can be fatal in both dogs and humans.
The signs often start 4 to 12 days after exposure to the bacteria. Look out for fever, muscle pain, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, jaundice and lethargy. Leptospirosis primarily affects the kidneys and liver so more serious cases will get kidney and liver failure.
Treatment will usually consists of antibiotics, fluid replacement, controlling the vomiting and other supportive liver treatments. Less severely affected dogs will recover but still carry the bacteria in their urine for months, posing an infection risk to other animals and humans. There are many stains of leptospirosis – the most comprehensive canine vaccine available covers four strains, and is known as the ‘L4 vaccine’.