Goals of Treatment
Leptospirosis is becoming more and more prevalent in companion animals, especially in dogs. Fortunately, this bacterial infection is treatable, and it also is curable. The subtypes (called “serovars”) of the Leptospira organism are continually mutating, which makes prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this infectious disease increasingly difficult for veterinary professionals. The goals of treating dogs with leptospirosis are to eliminate the organism from the dog’s blood stream, promote and maintain a healthy blood supply (especially to the liver and kidneys) and restore normal, productive urine output. If achieved, these goals will not only make the dog healthier, but they will also prevent further disbursement of the bacteria into the environment through urine and other bodily fluids.
Most dogs that have been diagnosed with leptospirosis will be hospitalized for a short period of time, so that they can be given balanced intravenous fluid solutions to correct their dehydration, resolve the symptoms of shock and restore their appropriate electrolyte balance. Oral penicillin antibiotics are usually the first drugs of choice for treating infected dogs. Dogs suffering from acute renal (kidney) failure as a result of leptospirosis will need to have their urine output and blood pressure carefully monitored, to keep track of their kidney function. If the dog has lost blood as a result of gastrointestinal hemorrhage, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Bleach or iodine-based disinfectants should be used to sanitize the kennels and other areas where infected dogs have lived, and especially areas where they have urinated. Strict kennel hygiene is very important to the management of this infectious disease. Owners or caretakers of infected dogs should wear gloves when cleaning the dogs’ living quarters or when they otherwise work with the animals. Unfortunately, some dogs that develop leptospirosis end up with chronic liver and/or kidney damage, which may or may not be easily manageable.
Most dogs that develop clinical disease from leptospirosis have a fairly good prognosis, as long as their disease is diagnosed and treated quickly and appropriately. When symptoms come on very suddenly and are quite severe, the prognosis for the dog’s recovery is more guarded. Unfortunately, some dogs will develop permanent and irreversible liver or kidney damage. Aggressive, timely therapy is critical, both for the affected animal and for the people that come into contact with it. Remember, leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that people can become infected if they have direct contact with the Leptospira organisms. This usually happens when a person comes into contact with the urine of an infected animal. The chances of human infection are high when they live with a dog that is showing signs of leptospirosis. People have an equal risk of becoming infected when they live with a dog that is a carrier of Leptospira with an inapparent infection. Those dogs show no signs of illness, but still shed the bacteria in their urine and other bodily secretions and are sources of potential infection for other animals and for people.