Canine leptospirosis

Referred to as canine malaria due to its symptoms, Leptospirosis is a deadly viral which causes almost immediate renal failure. Prognosis for dogs contracting the serovars without prompt diagnosis and medical treatment within the first 12 to 24 hours is unfortunately terminal.

Merlin and Canine Leptospirosis

© 2001-1997 by Ed Presnall
All Rights Reserved
As Published in the Clumber Crier
Reprinted with permission of the author

Canine Leptospirosis.

To most of us in the dog world, it is just another of the various vaccinations we give to our pets. Typically, a warm weather disease, found usually in the Southern and coastal regions normally associated with high humidity, large amounts of rainfall and temperatures averaging 85 degrees and higher. It has also been diagnosed in Wisconsin, Canada, Europe and Russia; places not normally known for their temperate climates.

Referred to as canine malaria due to its symptoms, Leptospirosis is a deadly viral which causes almost immediate renal failure. Prognosis for dogs contracting the serovars without prompt diagnosis and medical treatment within the first 12 to 24 hours is unfortunately terminal.

Lepto vaccines currently available on the market are developed to only assist in the prevention of serovars icterohaemorrhagiae and canicola, two of the 18 known serovars of leptospirosis.

Dr. Richard Squires of Wisconsin, currently Director of Veterinary Continuing Education, Massey University, New Zealand, performed studies on increasing number of affected dogs with subacute renal failure “and no liver disease”. In his study in Wisconsin, he serotested numerous dogs (especially young ones) with unexplained renal failure. Most of them were tested using ultrasound-guided renal biopsies. His testing discovered organisms (with silver stains) in renal tubules “in almost every” seropositive case that have been biopsied. The identity of this cultured organism and the serological findings suggest that the culprits in these dogs seem to be bratislava, grippotyphosa, pomona and hardjo, four of the rarer forms of leptospirosis.

In a similar study, Roger Marshall, BVSc. Diplomat Microbiol. MS. PhD. MACVSc., explains that the leptospirosis organism produces both renal injury and liver damage resulting in uraemia and icterus as prominent clinical signs. Hyperazotaemia, hypercreat- inaemia as well as hyperbilirubinaemia and hyperphosphataemia are blood chemistry changes that are the result of renal and hepatic damage respectively and intrahepatic cholestasis due to hepatic injury.

Normal or only mild increase in serum ALT and AST activities indicated only mild hepatocellular necrosis with none of the usual release of the intracytoplasmic enzymes to the blood stream that are associated with other inflammatory liver diseases. Infected dogs often exhibit icterus, haemorrhages due to thrombocytopenia and scleral injection although none of these signs are specific to infection with this organism.

Histopathological lesions are mainly found in the liver and kidney. The changes seen are; severe degeneration of the proximal convoluted tubules and mild congestion of the glomeruli with protein in the capsular space. The degree of inflammatory reaction in the kidney is variable and in the liver acute congestion and parenchymal cell degeneration are principal findings. There may be a dissociation of liver parenchymal cords with a disruption of normal acinar structure. The degree and type of liver damage is however not specific to this infection, but if it can be established that a leptospiral infection is the cause, then the changes are characteristic of copenhageni or icterohaemorrhagiae.

Merlin’s Story

He is a 4 year old Clumber Spaniel. His health was excellent, worked in the field on a regular basis, was a finished Champion and has his Tracking Dog title. in January, he was working on both his TDX and VST titles. The local area in which we work gets over six feet of rainfall each year. Most of it comes in 2 and 3 inch torrents. Since we live near the Gulf Coast and our elevation is measured in inches and not feet, water tends to stand in the fields for months. The county park we were working is a very low area, originally designed to be a flood reservoir for the surrounding river and bayou. It is wet, year around.

We had gone out on New Years day to run a track. Myself, one of my students and her GSD, Merlin and one of my Springers. Merlin’s track was 1,150 yards and he ran it in about 14 minutes. As usual, we walked about a mile to cool him off and took him home. His usual action after tracking is to go into my office and fall asleep under my desk for two hours.

On that day he slept for 6 hours and then refused to eat. A Spaniel refusing to eat, to me, is a sure sign something was wrong. We checked his color (gums) and took his temperature and all readings were normal. About a hour later, 8 hours from the time we left the field, he growled at my son who wanted to pet him. This was very atypical behavior for this dog who would help a thief load the TV for a pat on the head or a cookie.

We started checking his color and temperature every 15 minutes. Called our vet, a research scientist and working veterinarian who had the week before moved 250 miles away, and discussed various symptoms and possible causes. At nine hours, he was extremely lethargic and could not support his weight to stand.

At the vets suggestion, we started him on an IV solution and force fed him NutraCal while we kept the vet on the phone almost all night. At 12 hours his eyes started to take on a yellow tinge. Gum color and body temperature were still normal. The yellow tinge and no urination for 12 hours was a “red flag” of possible kidney failure, however pressure to his abdomen did not seem get any reaction from him.

At 15 hours we had him in a recommended vet’s office for x-rays and ultrasound. All test were negative, however small silver stains in the kidney area were obvious on the ultrasound. The vet ran a complete CBC and blood work-up which, although some reading were high, did not give anyone a clue as to what might be wrong. At that time we did not run a separate blood work-up for lepto “because he was vaccinated”. We kept him on IV.

At 24 hours he is critical. Prognosis is unknown, continued blood tests have not revealed a problem and the vets have recommended that they keep him a few days for observation. I grab the dog and drive 100 miles through a ice storm to a veterinary teaching/ research hospital.

After 29 hours, another full blood workup, x-rays, ultrasound have been performed. Prognosis was questionable. After requesting possible assistance from the members of a on-line newsgroup, a veterinarian in Michigan recommends a spectrographic lepto blood work-up from the symptoms I have disclosed. Vets and students at the university hospital are now convinced that I must be crazy, running around with a cellular phone and a lap- top sending e-mail to Spaniel-L. However, to appease me, they agree to run the test.

At 31 hours the staff confirms that the lepto test is positive. Serovars are pomona and tarassovi. Pomona has only been diagnosed in one case in the US in the previous 15 years and tarassovi had never been seen outside of its original discovery in Russia. No vaccine or cure other than flushing the system and worst case removing a kidney to stop the filtration into the body. Additional IV’s and extreme dosage of antibiotics.

As I leave the university for the long drive home, I am resigned that I will not see the dog alive again. Having received positive confirmation for Leptospirosis: pomona: 1:3200 to 1:100, hardjo: 1:1600 to 1:400 and tarassovi: 1:400 to 1:1600. Negative for canicola: 1:100 to 1:100 and icterohaemorrhagiae. 1:100 to 1:100.

We maintain an almost constant discussion with the university and follow Merlin’s progress in their treatment and flushing of his system. After 70 hours I am contacted and told he will survive and recover nicely.

After 72 hours, I pick my dog up and take him home. Three weeks of antibiotics, limited exercise and increased fluid intake later, he is allowed back in the field for tracking.

There were no “real” symptoms. As a good friend and nurse has said to me, “It is highly important for early diagnosis to have the owner’s (parents) personal observations of the patient. One of the things that both vets and doctors must pay attention to is when a parent says “just isn’t acting right” this should be real red flag.”

Many dog owners are lethargic when it comes to participating in their dog’s health care. We are and have always been very pro-active with our dogs and their treatment. We do not accept poor treatment or “observation” of our dogs. If our vet recommends a treatment, however bizarre it may sound, we are willing to try it rather than wait and observe.

If we had not noticed the change in his attitude and increased larthargy, he would have died before morning. If I had not removed him from the vets office and taken him to the university hospital he would have died while they “observed”. I am not being negative towards the vets, they did their job to the best of their ability — it just was not good enough for us. We reached for that higher level of competence which we found at the university hospital where he was diagnosed with total and complete renal failure within 45 minutes of admittance.

His future looks like a complete recovery. Minor scar tissue still appears on the ultrasounds, but the specialists say that is to be expected. He is back tracking and hopefully will compete in tests again soon.

Canine Leptospirosis is injested or absorbed by the dog through their mucus membranes. In Spaniels, as many sporting dogs, the olfactory cells of the sinus membrane and the haw surrounding the eyes are normal entry points. After working your dog in the field, whether tracking, hunting or simply being your companion, watch him carefully. At the first sign of distress or indication of subacute renal failure with no history of liver disease, you should make every effort to rule out the involvement of Leptospira. This serovar is probably more common than we realize in dogs but because they show little or no illness and it requires specialized blood testing to confirm, it is frequently overlooked.
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