Since initiating practice over the past decade, one of the most dangerous and fast spreading diseases I have seen is Leptospirosis. It is a bacterial disease that can affect dogs and other animals. It has a zoonotic importance i.e. it can spread to humans. It is seen all over the world and India is endemic for this disease. This disease spreads to animals and man from the urine of diseased animals. Almost all the species have similar clinical signs. In dogs this disease is called Canine Typhus or Infectious Jaundice. There are two separate organisms in dogs that can cause the disease i.e. Leptospira canicola and Leptospira icterohaemorrhaegiae. Both cause severe liver and kidney ailments in dogs of any age.
The main sources that dogs can contract the disease are by first licking the urine of infected animals and second through rodents that carry the infection to far off places. As the urine of diseased animals may carry the organism for months the control is difficult. All dogs need to be vaccinated against the disease and this is a routine component of the distemper combination shot given on a yearly basis by all Vets. Of late we are seeing two new strains L. graphityphosa and L. pomona. Both are at present not available in the current vaccines used for inoculation.
The clinical signs of the disease show up after an incubation period of 2 weeks. Males are seen to be more prone to get the disease. The main signs of the ailment include lack of appetite, weakness, vomiting, fever, conjunctivitis and lethargy. These signs are seen in a few other diseases and therefore an accurate diagnosis is difficult. The next stage has the dog having laboured breathing and a sudden drop in temperature. The dog also shows signs of jaundice. A very clear sign as the disease progresses is the development of red coloured ulcers in the mouth. This is because of the kidneys beginning to fail and the animal feels pain if the area of the back where the kidneys are located is pressed. Associated signs of kidney trouble include blood in vomit, depression, frequent urination and a thick secretion of saliva. Most of the animals tend to deteriorate after this stage and may succumb to the ailment. Some animals may not suffer this condition in an acute phase and may progress to a chronic phase. In May 2005 there were as many as 30 suspected cases at my clinic. We had a success rate of about 95% but still felt bad, as there was still no known protection against the two new variant strains. The sad part is that some of the dogs died in as short a period as eight hours.
The main method of diagnosis is by conducting blood tests. The neutrophil count is seen to be highly elevated and the Total Leukocyte Count is also very high. It can rise as high as 35,000 the normal being upto 17,000. There is also a drastic drop in the overall platelet count. In most cases we saw the platelet count fall as low as 10,000, whereas the normal is 2 lakhs. Sudden elevations in the creatinine counts is also seen which is indicative of acute renal failure. The urine on examination shows albumin casts. The other liver and kidney enzymes also show abnormal values and these are valuable diagnostic aids. The history of the vaccination status will help in making a conclusive diagnosis easier.
The treatment for this disease is complicated. Antibiotics like Tetracycline, procaine penicillin or Streptomycin need to be given to the dog when it is ill. A change of antibiotics is suggested once the dog recovers and becomes a carrier. The other factor that will determine the success of therapy is the correct fluid therapy. If the animal is unable to pass urine the amount of fluid administered is to be reduced.
Man can get this disease from infected urine, tissue like aborted foetus and contaminated water. Those people who are in regular contact with diseased animals like Vets, Animal shelter workers and pet owners need to be aware of the disease. The only methods of control are via preventive vaccination, rodent control and proper hygiene.
( Dr. Gautam Unny is a practicing Veterinarian in Delhi and can be contacted at 011-2215 3622 or 98100- 53451. He is the author of the bestseller ‘ A Manual on Dog Care’ by Rupa & Co. available at all leading stores. To order the book contact Rupa & Co at 011-23278586 & 011- 2327 2161)