Lola and Leptospirosis

Lola was a 2 year old, intact female Olde English Bulldog, that presented for vomiting, loss of appetite, recent weight loss and a foul smell from her mouth. She was formally adopted by her current owners earlier in the year, although they had known her since she was a puppy. She had a Rabies vaccination two months prior to presenting for her current illness. She had no other history of routine vaccination provided. Her last heat cycle was 2 months previous.

On examination, Lola was found to be have severe halitosis (bad breath), pale/ruddy color to her gums and they bled easily while evaluating her mouth. Her body condition was thin. Heart and lungs sounded normal and her abdomen was not painful. Radiographs of her abdomen to evaluate her for possible causes of symptoms did not show any abnormalities. Blood tests were submitted to our laboratory and showed that Lola was in severe renal (kidney) failure. Her kidneys were not functioning to remove toxins of normal metabolism from her body. She was also anemic, her red blood cells, hematocrit and hemoglobin were low. (One function of the kidneys is to stimulate production of red blood cells.) She was negative for Heartworms and tick related diseases such as Lyme, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia Canis. Her fecal test was also negative.

Lola was hospitalized and therapy was initiated with intravenous fluids, anti-vomiting medications and antibiotics. Further diagnostic testing was conducted to determine the cause of her kidney failure at such a young age. Our top possible diagnoses were toxin exposure, infection, congenital kidney dysfunction and Leptospirosis. Urine and blood samples were submitted to our local Department of Agriculture infectious disease lab for Leptospirosis testing. Lola’s titer tests came back positive for Leptospirosis Grippotyphosa. Because we had suspected this disease, Lola’s initial treatment included injections of Penicillin. This is one of the antibiotics used to treat Leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a disease that is caused by several different strains (serovars) of bacteria. Infected dogs often present with non-specific, sometimes flu-like symptoms such as vomiting, fever, decreased appetite, diarrhea, weakness, depression, abdominal pain, and in some cases, liver and kidney abnormalities. The bacteria is spread through the urine of infected animals, and can get into water and soil and survive there for weeks to months. Many animals can be carriers and spread the disease, including livestock (cattle, pigs and sheep), and wildlife like deer, raccoon, opossums, skunks, rats and other rodents. Any dog that goes outside for any amount of time can become infected. Infection is common in the summer and fall, and younger dogs are more often at risk.

Leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be spread from animals to humans. Direct or indirect contact with blood, urine and tissues during a pet’s infection will put pet owners at a much higher risk of contracting the disease. Sometimes shedding of the bacteria can persist for as long as 3 months after infection.

Lola was treated with aggressive medical management at our hospital for 4 days. On the fourth day, she began to decline further. Her kidney function assessment showed that her values were not improving and her liver was also starting to fail. She had petechial hemorrhaging (pin point bruising) of her gums and was vomiting large volumes of bloody fluid. Her owners came to see her one last time before deciding to end her suffering. She was euthanized later that day. They lost a very special member of their family.

Leptospirosis can be a devastating disease to pets and their families when it occurs. Vaccination is a very simple way to help prevent this potentially fatal disease. Since there are many serovars of the bacteria, vaccination can prevent disease entirely and/or reduce the severity of illness. Vaccination saves lives.