What is Leptospirosis Infection?
Leptospirosis is a relatively rare bacterial infection in cats that can be fatal. The disease can spread from the cat to other animals and humans. Children, elderly adults and those with weak immune systems are especially at risk for acquiring the parasitic bacteria from their cat.
Leptospirosis is one of the most widespread zoonotic diseases, infecting both domestic and wild animals. It is acquired through the bacteria burrowing into the cat's skin. The disease enters the skin and then reproduces in the kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, liver and reproductive system via the bloodstream. Though many cats’ immune systems are able to quickly produce antibodies and fight off leptospirosis, the condition can cause severe organ damage in the kidneys and liver.
Symptoms of Leptospirosis Infection in Cats
Though the disease quickly spreads throughout the entire body, the extent of symptoms will depend on the overall health and immune system of the cat.
- Sudden fever
- Stiff gait
- Reluctance to move
- Refusal to eat
- Vomiting that may contain traces of blood
- Diarrhea that may contain blood
- Increased thirst and urine output that may progress to no urination
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Breathing difficulty
- Fast, irregular pulse
- Mild lymph node swelling
- Runny nose
Causes of Leptospirosis Infection in Cats
The disease comes from an infection of bacterial spirochetes that burrow themselves into the skin. The subspecies bacteria of leptospirosis that typically affect cats, L. grippotyphosa and L. Pomona, are found in the following areas:
- Subtropical and tropical environments
- Stagnant water in marshy/muddy areas
- Irrigated pastures
Cats that have the infection typically drink the infected water that contains the Leptospira spirochete or eat a wild animal that has drunk the infected water.
Diagnosis of Leptospirosis Infection in Cats
The veterinarian will ask the cat's owner for a complete health history and whether the cat has been in wooded areas where they may have come into contact with wild animals with the infection or near wet areas recently. The vet will then perform a complete physical exam on the cat. Several medical tests will need to be performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine how the cat's body is reacting to the infection. A urinalysis can help the veterinarian learn if the kidneys have been affected. A complete blood count, electrolyte panel and a fluorescent antibody test will also be performed on the cat in order to determine how the organs are reacting to the infection. A microscopic agglutination test may also be done on your cat. This test looks at the antibodies in the blood that the cat's immune system made in response to the infection. Because many cats with healthy immune systems can quickly develop antibodies to fight off the infection, the number of antibodies will help the veterinarian determine how best to treat the cat.
If a leptospirosis infection is suspected in the cat, it's important to bring the cat to a veterinarian right away. As it is a zoonotic disease, the cat will need treatment at the vet rather than at home where other people in the household could become infected. When handling the cat, always use gloves. All of the cat's body fluids, including saliva, semen, post-birth discharge, urine, blood and vomit will all contain the infectious bacteria. Caution must be exercised when cleaning these fluids.
Treatment of Leptospirosis Infection in Cats
To counteract the effects of vomiting and frequent urination that cause dehydration in cats with this infection, fluids will need to be administered. Fluid therapy is essential to ensure that the kidneys are getting the proper amount of hydration to function properly.
Medications known as antiemetics will be given to the cat if he or she cannot tolerate food due to an upset stomach and vomiting. Renal failure may also cause an upset stomach. If the cat experienced renal problems as a result of the infection, there are some types of antiemetics that can be given that won't harm the kidneys further.
A feeding tube may be put into place in order to get nourishment to the cat if food isn't being tolerated well.
If the cat has lost too much blood through vomiting, diarrhea or hemorrhaging, a blood transfusion can replace the blood that was lost.
Depending on the strain that infected the cat, antibiotics will be given for at least four weeks. The type of antibiotic prescribed by the veterinarian will be determined by the extent that the disease has spread in the cat's body and how well the cat's immune system is fighting the infection.
Recovery of Leptospirosis Infection in Cats
The cat will need to continue to follow up with the veterinarian during antibiotic treatment for follow-up labs to determine how the antibiotics are being tolerated and the effect that they are having on the infection. If renal or liver disease were caused by the infection, further treatment, such as a special diet or medication, will be recommended by the doctor to keep the kidneys and liver functioning.