Ruby’s misadventure with leptospirosis

Ruby’s misadventure with leptospirosis

Following an idyllic holiday in the wilderness, Ruby, the Johnson family’s 3-year-old Labrador Retriever fell sick. Here’s her story.

August 24, 2019 By Dan Shock, DVM PhD

It all started with an amazing week-long vacation to Algonquin Park, complete with family canoe trips, day-long wilderness exploration, and all the squirrel chasing Ruby could handle. Despite the recent rainy weather, the Johnsons lucked out and had some beautiful dry, sunny days.

A few days following their return home, they noticed that Ruby wasn’t right. They chalked it up to her exhausting vacation, but after a few more days with no improvement, she took a turn for the worse. She stopped eating and started vomiting. She was also drinking and urinating a lot. They tried to comfort her, but it seemed like the dog was in pain. Fearing the worst, they rushed her to the vet.

After examining the animal and hearing about her wilderness adventure Ruby’s vet suspected she had contracted leptospirosis. The timeline fitted, as leptospirosis can take anywhere from 4-12 days following infection to show signs of sickness. With a positive result on initial in-clinic testing, the veterinarian got Ruby right on an antibiotic. She also started intravenous fluid therapy and ordered further tests to confirm her suspicions. They came back positive.

The low-down on lepto

Leptospirosis (“lepto”) is a serious bacterial infection. The leptospira bacteria can infect mammals of all shapes and sizes—wildlife (e.g. mice, raccoons), livestock (e.g. cows, pigs and horses), our pets, and even people. Infections can range in severity, from completely silent to severe and life-threatening (as with Ruby). There are many different types (called “serovars”) of lepto bacteria, and the signs seen in infected animals vary depending on the serovar and the species of animal infected. Once infected, the lepto bacteria gravitate to the kidney and liver.

Wildlife shed the lepto bacteria in their urine, contaminating shallow, standing water. Lepto can live in the environment for weeks. In Ruby’s case, she likely ran through water contaminated by infected wildlife. Lepto thrives in temperatures between 0 and 25°C, which means that in North America we normally see a spike of infection in the late summer and early fall. Wet summers mean more standing water for the lepto bacteria to live in. Thus, vets see more lepto in pets during warm and wet weather.

Leptospira can cause liver and kidney damage in infected animals. This can lead to several vague outward signs, including:

  • depression

  • anorexia

  • vomiting

  • painful stomachs

  • excessive thirst and urination

These signs can look like a lot of different diseases, so your veterinarian needs to run tests to get the diagnosis right. Ruby was lucky. She received prompt medical care and, after 3 weeks of therapy, she made a full recovery. The Johnsons now have Ruby on a vaccination schedule and are more mindful of where Ruby runs when hiking. With a little knowledge and expert advice from their veterinarian, the Johnsons are confident they won’t have to experience lepto again!

Tomorrow, don’t miss: How to prevent leptospirosis

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