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Leptospirosis in pets

As a pet owner, you might be worried about some recent media coverage on a rare bacterial condition called Leptospirosis (sometimes referred to as ‘rat disease’). We asked our Chief Vet to explain the condition, and what pet owners can do if they’re worried.

Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira bacteria.

In Australia, the most common carriers of the bacteria are rodents and small marsupials, although cattle, sheep, goats and dogs can also be carriers.

The bacteria are transmitted through an infected animal’s urine, which means stagnant water contaminated with infected urine acts as a reservoir for infection. Typically, the bacteria are more commonly found in rural areas, however it is now increasingly found in urban areas where rodent populations are prevalent. Rubbish accumulation, demolition or construction work results in the influx of rodents into an area increasing the risk of spread.

Leptospira bacteria can survive for several months in stagnant water or damp soil, and more commonly becomes a problem after periods of rain or flooding.

The signs of Leptospirosis in dogs vary and can be vague. Infected dogs might not show any signs of disease, or they may have a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, weakness and a reluctance to move. They can develop kidney failure and jaundice. It can be a fatal disease in dogs, but cats appear to be more resistant to infection. 

Although there have been reports of cases in Sydney recently, according to PetSure data, the incidence of diagnosed disease in insured dogs in Australia has been low with very few claims for Leptospirosis. However, as some dogs only present with very mild symptoms, cases of Leptospirosis may go undiagnosed. 

Dogs with Leptospirosis can potentially infect people through contact with their urine, so people need to ensure that they are cautious around animals that are at risk or have been diagnosed with the condition. If you are concerned about contracting Leptospirosis from your pet, you should contact your doctor.

There is a vaccine that offers protection for dogs that are at risk. All dog owners should seek Veterinary advice with regards to vaccination, prevention and treatment.

Any advice is general only and has not considered your personal circumstances, so may not be right for you. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider to decide if a product is right for you. Insurance products are issued by The Hollard Insurance Company Pty Ltd (ABN 78 090 584 473; AFSL 241436) and administered by PetSure (Australia) Pty Ltd (ABN 95 075 949 923; AFSL 420183) through our Authorised Representatives and our distribution partners.

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