Leptospirosis is a zoonotic bacterial disease, which means it affects both animals and humans. It is caused by Leptospira bacteria found specifically in infected animal urine and animal tissues. It can cause a range of symptoms in both humans and animals.
Without treatment, Leptospirosis may cause kidney damage, liver failure, meningitis, respiratory distress and, in some cases, death. The disease is more common in warmer climates but may occur anywhere. It is commonly spread through water contaminated with urine from infected animals.
There are multiple different serovars (variant types) of Leptospira bacteria. The serovar thought to be of most risk to dogs in Northern Australia is Leptospira Australis. Vaccination against Leptospirosis Australis has helped provide some protection to our dog population, but unfortunately the vaccination has been unavailable since May 2023. Initially this was expected to be a short-term issue, and we have been waiting for supply to return. The delay has been longer than expected and unfortunately, we do not have a firm ETA for return of the vaccination.
As a result, we would like to inform dog owners of ways to help avoid potential sources of infection.
How is leptospirosis spread?
Leptospira Australis is spread mainly via rats and some of our native animals. The bacteria is shed in the urine of these animals, and water sources contaminated with urine are considered the biggest risk to our dogs.
In dogs, infection occurs most commonly through the gums in the mouth, or through an open wound, cut, or scrape on the skin.
Infection can also occur through a bite from an infected animal or through consumption of an infected carcass. In pregnant females, the disease may be passed from the placenta to her puppies.
Cats appear to be very resistant to Leptospirosis and not at significant risk.
What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?
Clinical signs and symptoms in dogs are very variable. Some may show no signs of illness, others may show mild signs and others may show severe illness and succumb to a rapid onset death.
Symptoms may include:
•jaundice (yellow discolouration of the eyes, skin, gums)
•changed frequency of urination
•inflammation of the eyes
Many of these symptoms correlate with other diseases, making leptospirosis particularly difficult to diagnose.
Is there treatment for leptospirosis?
Your vet will give your dog a thorough physical examination and if warranted, may recommend other diagnostic tests such as blood and urine testing, radiographs and ultrasound. Antibiotics may be prescribed along with supportive care to prevent kidney or liver damage.
How can I prevent leptospirosis?
•Try to prevent your dog from drinking from puddles of water or from ponds or stagnant water.
•Any water bowls left outside at night should be cleaned and refilled each morning.
•Try to prevent your dog from swimming or playing in stagnant water.
•Prohibit contact with rodents as much as possible. Keep your dog inside at night. Pest control to help remove rodents from your yard (NB rat bait is highly toxic to dogs and dogs must not have access to rat bait).
While vaccination does not prevent all cases of Leptospirosis, it can help reduce the risk of infection and the severity of disease.
Although we usually vaccinate for Lepto Australis every 6 months to ensure optimal protection, some level of protection is likely for up to 12 months after their last vaccine.
Can humans get leptospirosis?
Yes, humans can contract leptospirosis. It is easily transmissible through cuts or abrasions on the skin or through mucous membranes in the mouth, nose and eyes.
Often water, soil or mud contaminated with urine from infected animals is the most common cause of transmission. Some recreational activities (gardening, camping, water sports) or occupations (veterinarians, farmers, abattoir workers) that involve frequent contact with animals or water are at higher risk of infection.
The following measures should be taken to prevent leptospirosis infection in humans:
•Conceal cuts and abrasions with a waterproof dressing.
•If you need to have contact with animal urine or tissues, wear protective clothing (gloves, boots, goggles, face mask).
•Avoid contact with animal urine.
•If your dog urinates in the home, wear gloves to clean thoroughly with disinfectant
•Avoid stagnant water sources and prohibit your dog from urinating in or near water sources.
•Avoid swimming in contaminated water sources.
•Avoid walking through mud or stagnant water sources and wear protective footwear if you must do so.
•Always wear protective clothing in or around water sources or soils that could be contaminated by animal urine.
•Control rodents through proper rubbish disposal, particularly in or around the home.