It is not unusual to discover leptospirosis in German Shepherds because the breed loves being active outdoors. Dogs are infected with leptospirosis when the spiral-shaped bacteria Leptospira interrogans penetrate their skin and infiltrate into the bloodstream. The spirochete is often found in stagnant water close to places where rodents are abundant. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which can be passed from animals to humans.
There are more than 200 subtypes of Leptospira interrogans bacteria. The most common subtypes that cause leptospirosis in German Shepherds are L. canicola and L. icterohemorrhagiae. The latter is considered the most dangerous.
Recent studies also show that the following subtypes pose significant threats to dogs.
- L. grippotyphosa
- L. australis
- L. pomona
- L. bratislava
Experts are of the opinion that German Shepherds are at an increased risk of contracting leptospirosis than other dog breeds.
Leptospirosis in German Shepherds: The Infection
Though most mammals can have Leptospira bacteria in them, rats are the most common carriers. The bacteria thrive in warm and humid conditions and places that have stagnant water. The threat of leptospirosis outbreak becomes more pronounced during the rainy season or soon after a flooding.
Your German Shepherd can catch the bacteria by ingesting urine of infected animals and contaminated water, soil, or food. Dogs can also catch the bacteria by eating tissues of an infected animal. The bacteria can get into the bloodstream by penetrating thin or damaged skin when contaminated water is splashed on your dog.
Initial Infection of Leptospirosis in German Shepherds
Leptospirosis in German Shepherds starts 4 to 12 days after the bacteria enter the body. Thereafter it starts spreading to the other areas and affects the kidneys, liver, reproductive system, and even the eyes.
After initial contamination, fever and bacterial infection of the blood set in. These symptoms are often resolved when your German Shepherd’s body releases enough antibodies to shoot down the bacteria. Depending on your pet’s immune system, the infection is either fully eliminated or the bacteria starts affecting other organs. Without proper treatment, the bacteria can stay put in the kidney hidden from antibodies. There, the bacteria multiply and your dog sheds them in his urine.
As the disease progresses, the bacteria can affect the liver and kidneys. Your German Shepherd will be in danger if the disease reaches this stage. Young puppies, who have underdeveloped immune systems, are at the greater risk of suffering from severe complications.
Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis in German Shepherds
The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis vary depending on the strain that affects a dog. The symptoms of the disease include:
- high fever
- loss of appetite
- vomiting with or without blood
- diarrhea that is often bloody
- sores, bruises, or hemorrhages in the mouth
- muscle stiffness or pain
- abdominal pain
- increased thirst
- increased urination that later progresses to inability to urinate
- bloody or dark urine
- rapid dehydration
- yellow skin and/or eyes (jaundice)
- yellow eyes
- labored breathing
- swollen mucous membrane
- runny nose
- slightly swollen lymph nodes
Diagnosing Leptospirosis in German Shepherds
Utmost care and caution must be taken when treating dogs suffering from leptospirosis. The vet may ask about your German Shepherd’s lifestyle, recent activities, health history, and diet. Clinical signs are also assessed. If he suspects leptospirosis in your German Shepherd, your pet may need to have urinalysis, chemical blood profile, CBC, electrolyte panel, and fluorescent antibody urine tests.
Results help the veterinarian confirm the presence of Leptospira bacteria in your German Shepherd’s system and determine the stage of infection and severity of the disease. Tests may also be done to measure your dog’s immune response to the infection.
Treating Leptospirosis in German Shepherds
If detected during the early stage, leptospirosis can be treated using antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, penicillin, and ampicillin. Most infected dogs are placed under medical observation and provided supportive care to overcome dehydration and other symptoms.
Dogs recovering are given an extended course of antibiotics, usually doxycycline, to clear all bacterial organisms present in them and prevent their chances of becoming a chronic carrier of the bacteria.
If the disease is detected and treated late, there may be damage to the digestive tract, kidneys, and liver. Dogs who survive this stage are often left with chronic kidney disease, and their recovery takes a long time.
Preventing Leptospirosis in German Shepherds
Leptospirosis vaccination available at present covers only a few – 2 to 4 types – of the known bacteria. Your German Shepherd may not receive full protection, as the vaccine does not prevent all Leptospira subtypes from causing the infection. Still, some vets recommend vaccination if you live in an area where the disease is widely prevalent. If you choose to have your German Shepherd vaccinated, you may have to do it in every 6 to 9 months.
- Pest control
Because the number one carrier of Leptospira is rodents, controlling their population around your place of living reduces your dogs’ chances of infection.
- Stay out of stagnant water
German Shepherds love to be active. To protect them from contracting the disease, make sure to keep your pet away from ponds, streams, and any place where there is stagnant water.