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Does Pet Insurance Cover Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that poses a serious risk to dogs and can even be passed on to humans. But the good news is that it can be treated when caught early, it may be covered by pet insurance, and it can be prevented with a vaccine. Learn the signs of leptospirosis, how to lower your dog’s risk of contracting it, and what you need to know about pet insurance coverage for leptospirosis treatment.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis, sometimes called 'lepto,' is a zoonotic disease (can be passed between animals and humans) caused by Leptospira. This bacteria, which is commonly found in soil and water, can cause a wide range of health effects and lead to severe liver and kidney damage.

While previously thought of as only a problem in rural areas, leptospirosis is one of the most widespread zoonotic diseases and can be found in both rural and urban environments. Nearly all mammals, including humans, can become infected with leptospirosis, but rodents, raccoons, and farm animals most commonly spread it. Leptospira bacteria thrive in warm, wet conditions, so transmission is more common during higher temperatures and heavy rainfall.

Contact with Leptospira bacteria typically occurs through stagnant water such as lakes and ponds. It can also occur through contact with anything contaminated with an infected animal's urine. In wilderness settings, this can be soil, plants, or trees, while in urban settings, puddles, trash cans, or street litter are more likely.

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How dogs contract leptospirosis

Dogs can contract leptospirosis in various ways by coming into contact with contaminated water, soil, or urine from an infected animal. This can occur on walks around the neighborhood, hikes in the forest, or trips to the park. Dogs that swim or play in lakes can also be at a higher risk for contracting leptospirosis.

Digging in soil, drinking from puddles, interacting with wildlife or farm animals, and sometimes just sniffing can expose dogs to leptospirosis. Sniffing, where an infected animal recently urinated, like the base of a tree or garbage can, can allow Leptospira bacteria to enter the mucus membranes of a dog’s nose or mouth. Dogs can also contract leptospirosis from other infected dogs. Infections can spread quickly in high-traffic environments like dog parks and boarding facilities.

How dogs contract leptospirosis

Signs of leptospirosis in dogs

Once Leptospira bacteria enter a dog's body, there’s an incubation period of about one week before clinical signs of a leptospirosis infection appear.

Common signs of leptospirosis in dogs:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss

Early medical intervention is key in identifying and treating leptospirosis. Advanced cases of leptospirosis can have more severe symptoms such as respiratory distress, bleeding from the nose or mouth, bloody urine, and extreme lethargy and weakness. These can be fatal. Suspected cases of leptospirosis should be evaluated by a veterinarian right away.

Diagnosing leptospirosis in dogs

Diagnosing a case of leptospirosis involves a physical exam, an assessment of exposure risk (i.e., any recent swimming, rodent interactions, etc.), and a series of lab tests.

The most common tests include a complete blood count (CBC) and urinalysis to check overall health and organ function, and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for the presence of Leptospira DNA. Depending on the results of these tests and the dog’s condition, other diagnostics such as x-rays, ultrasound, and additional blood work may be needed.

Treatment for leptospirosis

Generally, leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics and supportive care. This can involve hospitalization, fluid therapy, medications to help manage symptoms, blood work, and vital signs monitoring. In severe cases, some dogs may require more intensive care and extended hospital stays, especially when there is significant liver or kidney damage.

Cost of leptospirosis treatment

The cost of leptospirosis treatment can vary based on severity. Mild or moderate cases can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to treat. More severe cases needing intensive care and several days of hospitalization can cost $5,000 or more.

Does pet insurance cover leptospirosis?

Most pet insurance covers leptospirosis as long as it is not pre-existing. Covered costs typically include diagnostics, treatment, hospitalization, medications, and follow-up care.

Your level of coverage and cost savings will depend on your deductible, reimbursement rate, annual limits, and other details of your individual plan.

Protecting your dog from leptospirosis

While leptospirosis is a serious disease, there are precautions that dog owners can take.

Leptospirosis prevention:

  • Vaccinate* your dog for leptospirosis.
  • Avoid letting your dog drink from or play in puddles or other standing water.
  • Keep your dog leashed and stay on trails while hiking.
  • Don’t let your dog swim in bodies of water at risk for leptospirosis contamination.
  • Limit your dog’s exposure to wildlife and farm animals.
  • Keep your dog away from garbage cans or street litter that may have rodents.
  • Follow local advisories on lepto outbreaks.

*While the lepto vaccine is an important step you can take to protect your dog, it doesn’t mean your dog won’t contract leptospirosis. There are several strains of Leptospira bacteria, and vaccinated dogs can still catch and spread leptospirosis. Always seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog to have lepto, regardless of their vaccination status.

Stay informed, talk to your vet about risk factors, and take necessary precautions to prevent leptospirosis and keep your dog happy and healthy.

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