Leptospirosis, also known as Lepto is one of the most common bacterial infection caused by the Leptospira interrogans organism (Aquatic Spirochetes). These are spiral shaped, with hooks present on one or both ends. There are many sub species and serovars of Leptospira which are known to cause diseases like Leptospira canicola, Leptospira icterohemorrhagiae, Leptospira grippotyphosa, Leptospira pomona, Leptospira australis and Leptospira bratislava. The most common cause of this infection are Leptospira grippotyphosa and Leptospira pomona.
These micro-organisms are known to thrive in tropical and sub-tropical climates, where is humidity, especially in murky, muddy and stagnant water bodies such as ponds, lakes, small puddles of water. This parasite is highly adaptable and is known to survive for months.
Leptospirosis affects a variety of animals including wold animals, domestic, farm and companion animals. Raccoons, skunks, pigs and rodents are the primary host of this infection.
Transmission happens by
› drinking contaminated water from ponds, rivers, swimming pools and lakes
› drinking water contaminated with urine of an infected animal
› from hot, humid and damp environments where the bacteria thrives.
Once ingested, leptospirosis bacteria initially colonizes the blood stream. It then rapidly starts multiplying which causes inflammation or swelling of the blood vessels. It then starts invading other organs such as kidneys, liver, eyes and the reproductive organs. The effect of a compromised immunity and the organ involved, the pet will exhibit fever, weakness, fatigue, constant coughing, nasal discharge and more. Depending on the severity of the infection, the damages can range from mild to severe.
The antibodies produced by the immunity system along-with the treatment procedures fight the bacteria and completely eradicate the infection. In-spite of this lepto can be present in the respiratory organs (lungs) and the pet will continue to shed the bacteria for weeks.
Lepto has a global distribution, it is present everywhere. Pets with developing immunity (kittens and younger cats), cats with weakened immunity from existing infections and medical conditions, senior cats with lower resistance are prone to this infection.
Leptospirosis is a ZOONOTIC disease, which means humans can easily get infected.
Leptospirosis is caused by the Leptospira interrogans bacteria organism. Common ways to get infected are:
› Drinking contaminated water
› Drinking water contaminated with the urine of an infected animal
› From contaminated soil such as parks, walking areas
› Bite wounds
› Consuming raw and infected meat
› Scavenging garbage bins
› During birth – from mother to the pup
Clinical Signs & Symptoms
Once leptospirosis enters the body, it colonizes the blood vessels and migrates to other organs. The incubation period can range from days up-to 3 weeks.
Initial signs resemble flu like symptoms.
Common symptoms seen are:
› Pyrexia (Fever)
› Diarrhea (Loose stools)
› Hematemesis (Vomiting Blood)
› Tachypnea (Rapid Breathing Rate)
› Melena (Blood in Stool)
› Sinusitis (swelling of mucus membrane)
› lymphadenitis (swelling of lymph nodes)
› Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing)
› Recurrent nasal discharges / runny nose
› Polydipsia and Polyuria (excessive drinking and urinating)
› Dysuria (Trouble Urinating)
› Chronic renal (kidney) failure
› Muscle stiffness
› Petechia (bruising of skin)
› Uveitis (inflammation of the inner pigmented structure of the eye)
Diagnosing leptospirosis can be tricky as it mimics symptoms of other known kidney and liver diseases.
Veterinarians will require a complete history of your cat which includes medical history, vaccination records, existing health concerns, current and previous medications, onset of symptoms, diet and exercise routine and any information which can help in establishing a correct diagnosis. Diagnosis is done with a combination of tests. These include routine lab examinations and special tests which can detect the presence of the parasite. They are:
› Physical examination
› Complete Blood Count (CBC)
› Leptospirosis Test
› Kidney biospy
› MAT (Microscopic Agglutination Test) – this reveals antibodies for leptospirosis
Treatment focuses on removing the parasite from the body, suppressing the effects of damages done to the organs it targets and recovery. Treatment consists of
› Antibiotic medications
› Drugs to treat secondary illnesses and diseases
› Fluid therapy
› Use of IV fluids
› Blood transfusions (if the animal is hemorrhaging)
› Prescribed immunity enhancing drugs
› Prescribed diet (low protein)
Lepto has a global presence. It is so common that all pets will have leptospirosis atleast once in their lifetime. Vaccination is the single most effective way to prevent this bacterial infection.
› Restricting your pets away from contaminated water sources
› Keeping your pets away from feces of other animals – in parks, walking areas, playgrounds, catteries, boarding homes, kennels
› Not letting your pets scavenge from garbage bins, eating spoiled food, leftovers, raw meat
› Not letting your pet wander in the open, in areas where you suspect the prevalence of the infection. This works two ways. First it will reduce the risk of exposure to the infection and secondly it will reduce the risk of your pet contaminating the area (if the pet is infected).
› Using rodenticides and disinfectants
Leptospira organisms can survive in the environment for long periods of time. They can easily spread through thier preferred hosts.
Keep in mind a STRONGER IMMUNITY will not only ward off the infection but will also help in a speedy recovery.
Home care should aim at improving the condition. Treatments can take a few days to weeks, depending on the severity. If you observe any behavioral changes, or if the condition does not improve, please contact your veterinarian.
› It is mandatory to provide a stress-free environment for your cat. Keep water and food bowls within reach. Avoid physical activity. Keep your cats away from any noise and commotions.
› You have to administer and monitor all prescribed medicine as directed by your veterinarian.
› Do NOT travel with your cat.
› Do NOT allow your cat to roam freely. This works two ways, firstly if the cat is infected, it greatly reduces the chances of risk of exposure to other pets and humans and secondly in-case of a healthy pet, it reduces the chances of contracting the infection.
› Use of environmental disinfectants is recommended. Prompt disposal of any and all materials after use is suggested.
› Routine and regular checkups to access the progress, further tests may be advised this includes Liver and kidney function tests, blood tests. Monitor and administer all medications as directed by your veterinarian and complete the dosage.
› Humans, especially children, pregnant women and ones handling infected pets need to exercise caution. Wear gloves when dealing with a pet, cleaning the litter boxes, disposing any and all contaminated materials, garbage disposals etc. A thorough wash of hands is advised. Practice hygiene.
› If left untreated or any delay in treatment, Leptospirosis can cause severe kidney and liver damage. Special emphasis needs to be given on diet. A well planned, healthy, nutritious and balanced diet is recommended. Try to avoid raw foods. Veterinarians usually suggest a low protein diet for liver and kidney recovery.