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Unveiling Leptospirosis: A Concern for Cat Owners

One of the more easily transmitted parasites among cats is leptospirosis. Here, our Cumming vets share some of the common signs and symptoms of leptospirosis infections in cats, how this infection is diagnosed, and what can be done to treat it.

Cat With Leptospirosis Infections

Leptospires replicate throughout a cat's body, including the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. When an infection occurs in the liver or kidneys it can cause severe organ damage, which can be fatal.

As leptospirosis is classified as a zoonotic disease, it can spread from animals to humans. If you have any children, they will be especially vulnerable to this parasite and risk contracting this infection. Young cats with underdeveloped immune systems are more vulnerable to serious consequences from the disease.

Leptospirosis in Cats and the Symptoms

If your cat contracts leptospirosis they may experience many different symptoms, some of which can be similar to those of other conditions. Therefore, it's incredibly important to see your veterinarian, or an emergency vet, if your cat shows any symptoms that potentially point to leptospirosis.

Some of the symptoms of leptospirosis:

  • Depression
  • Runny nose
  • Weakness
  • Spontaneous cough
  • Dark red speckled gums
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Sore or stiff muscles, legs, and/or a reluctance to move
  • Sudden fever and illness
  • Shivering
  • Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes
  • Swelling of the mucous membrane or lymph nodes
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, possibly with blood
  • Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse
  • Bloody vaginal discharge for female cats

How do cats contract leptospirosis?

Leptospira spirochete infections are more common in subtropical, tropical, and moist regions. However, the infection rate among domestic pets in the United States and Canada is growing, with illnesses becoming most common in the autumn months.

If you live near a forest of heavily treed area or a farm, your cat may be more likely to pick up this bacteria. This is because Leptospira spirochetes are most prevalent in marshy/muddy areas with stagnant surface water. In addition to this, heavily irrigated pastures are also common sources of infection, owing to the possibility of infected soil or mud. Cats can also contract Leptospirosis from the urine of other infected animals.

What steps will the vet take when diagnosing my cat with leptospirosis?

Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic illness (meaning it can pass from an animal to a person), your veterinarian will use extreme caution when handling your cat. They must wear latex gloves at all times and all bodily fluids will be handled as biologically hazardous materials. Urine, sperm, vomit, and any other fluid that exits the body has to be handled with particular care.

Your veterinarian will want a full history of your cat's health, including their recent activity and past symptoms. The information you give your vet might help them determine what stage of infection your cat is at and the organs being impacted.

Your vet may also conduct a range of diagnostic tests to get a better understanding of your cat's case.

What are the leptospirosis treatments used in infected cats?

When cats are infected with leptospirosis, the treatment can vary depending on their symptoms. Fluid therapy will be the primary treatment for correcting the consequences of dehydration. If your cat has been vomiting they might be given an antiemetic or anti-vomiting medication. If your cat's ability to eat or keep food down is impaired because of sickness, a gastric tube may be used to provide sustenance.

Your cat will likely need antibiotics for at least four weeks to help clear the infection. The type of antibiotic they provide will depend on the stage of infection. Penicillins can be used to treat initial infections, but they are ineffective at killing bacteria once it has reached the carrier stage. Some antibiotics could have major adverse effects, especially those that travel deeper into the system to eradicate infection.

The good news is that except for serious organ damage, the prognosis for recovery is usually good.

What is the prognosis for cats with leptospirosis?

A leptospirosis infection is able to be detected in a cat's urine for several weeks after treatment has begun. Appropriate handling techniques are the most effective way to prevent infection or reinfection. This includes handling all body excretions with gloves and disposing of them properly afterward. Remember to also dispose of your cat's feces and urine properly. You may also want to consider placing your cat in quarantine for a few weeks after treatment. Your vet will be able to provide you with more direction on this.

Despite how well you, your family, and your other pets feel, it's always a good idea to get tested for Leptospirosis. Remember that it is a zoonotic disease, and can spread just as easily to humans as it can to other animals.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned that your cat may have leptospirosis or another parasitic infection? Contact our Cumming vets to schedule an examination for your feline friend.

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