It is vital to be aware of this infectious disease called Leptospirosis. It is the dreaded disease that killed my sweet Tapa. I share this information so you will know how to protect your Heeler. Lepto is on the rise, and I suspect in time could easily catch up with Lyme. I hope not for it is far worse and more fatal.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral bacteria called spirochetes or leptospires. Two spirochetes have adapted to cause disease in dogs: the Borrelia which causes Lyme disease and Leptospira which results in Leptospirosis. Of the 230 identified strains of Leptospirosis, eight of them are responsible for disease in dogs, though the Lepto tests only list six of these strains. Lepto occurs worldwide, but seems to be most prevalent in mild or tropical climates with heavy rainfall. It will not tolerate freezing temperatures. However, I did hear of a case in Wyoming this summer so it is beginning to show up in drier climates during the warmer months. Lepto is perpetuated in wildlife, specifically in raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels and rats. These wildlife carriers do not appear sick as their anti-bodies tend to clear the spirochetes from most of their organs, except the kidneys, where the bacteria persists in the microscopic tubes that carry urine to the bladder. Infected wildlife contaminates the environment with living Lepto bacteria when they urinate. The leptospira, which they shed for months or even years, remains active in water, mud, dampness and more alkaline soils. For this reason, hunting and working dogs that spend time in swampy, wooded areas or swim in still water are most susceptible. Leptospira are often washed by rain into pools of standing water or into lakes. A dog is exposed simply by sniffing the urine, or by drinking or swimming in contaminated water.
It is possible for a dog to be exposed to Lepto, and not become visibly ill right away. The symptoms vary from each dog, and perhaps some dogs have mild exposures in which the accumulated anti-bodies manage to ward off an acute attack. However, over time, kidney disease could suddenly develop. The exposure time frame in which dogs become sick can be anywhere from 2 to 30 days though 4 to 12 days is more common. The bacteria spreads very rapidly through the blood stream, and produces potent toxins which aggressively attack the organs, especially the kidneys. The extent of the damage will depend upon the various strains, the level of exposure and how quickly the dog is diagnosed and treated.
Typical symptoms tend to be the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Joint and muscle pain
- Stomach pain
- Increased/decreased thirst
These can be the initial symptoms soon after exposure. As the disease progresses, there can be more severe symptoms in relation to the organs it attacks. These can include eye inflammation, temporary blindness, high blood pressure, bladder infections, jaundice, dehydration, vomiting yellow bile, blood clots, appetite loss, ulcers, gastritis, pancreatitis and a total disinterest in drinking water. Since Lepto favors the attack of the kidneys, kidney damage is most common with significant changes in the BUN and Creatinine kidney values. Ongoing blood work will indicate which organs have had a hard hit. The health of the kidneys will be an issue in most every dog with Lepto. Severely damaged kidneys can be temporary or permanent. You will not know the extent of the damage until you have treated and killed the leptospira. Then it becomes a dreadful waiting game.
I strongly suggest you have blood work done immediately upon seeing any of the symptoms listed above. Time is of the essence with Lepto. Your dog’s chance of survival is greatly increased by how fast this disease is diagnosed. It takes 5 to 7 days for the Lepto test results so if there is any suspicion of Lepto, do not delay. Tapa went undiagnosed for almost three weeks from the time she started vomiting. The vet suspected Lepto so anti-biotic IV fluids were started before we knew for sure, but a lot of time had passed in which the Lepto was at harmful work. We know now just how much damage can be done in a very short amount of time by this deadly bacteria.
Antibiotics, like Doxycycline, will kill the Lepto, and is usually a three week treatment. This early stage is very severe and challenging so your dog needs good, supportive care. Doxycycline is very strong, and consistently flattened Tapa. It is good to include at this stage a quality pro-biotic, anti-vomiting meds or homeopathic remedies and IV fluids 3 to 5 times a week. As far as I know, there is no homeopathic remedy that kills Lepto like antibiotics, though there are Leptospirosis homeopathic nosodes to prevent the disease. You need to know whatever treatment you choose is going to do its job quickly as you want this bacteria dead as fast as possible. If I were to do this over again, I would begin several homeopathic remedies at this stage to help support the kidneys and liver, give some relief from the side affects of the doxy and help detox. It took me a few weeks before I began to do this, and I saw an immediate improvement in Tapa when I did. Your dog is going to be feeling very bad at this stage. The doxy is given twice a day, and you must try to get some food in them beforehand as it is so hard on their gut.
The vaccine for Lepto has more serious reactions than any other vaccine, some of them fatal. Thus, only vaccinate your dog if you are certain exposure is likely. If you live in a dry climate, and are going to travel with your dog to warm, wet, tropical climates, this vaccine needs to be considered if your dog loves to romp in nature. Many hunting dog owners need to consider this vaccine in the warm weather. The Lepto vaccine is also very short lived, maybe one year or even less, and there are questions regarding how effective it really is. Vaccine manufacturers have yet to perfect this vaccine, and it may be some years before they do. Their job is complicated by the eight strains. If your dog becomes infected by three of these strains, they will remain immune to these specific strains so long as the anti-bodies remain in their body. However, they remain vulnerable to infection from exposure to the other strains for which they have no anti-bodies.
I strongly suggest you seek out a homeopathic veterinarian in your local area, and inquire about treating your dog with the homeopathic nosodes. These nosodes are essentially vaccine alternatives which are completely safe with no side effects nor risks of any kind. Most homeopathic vets are able to provide these as a replacement for all the core vaccines, including Leptospirosis and Rabies.
You can read more on Leptospirosis at the below links.