Leptospirosis in Cats

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can easily be contracted while your cat is out and about in the world. Here, our East Setauket vets discuss the signs, symptoms and spread of leptospirosis in cats and what to expect through the treatment process.

Bacterial Infections in Cats - Leptospirosis

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. Children are especially vulnerable to contracting this parasitic infection from an infected pet. Young cats with underdeveloped immune systems are more vulnerable to serious consequences from the disease.

Leptospirosis in Cats - Signs & Symptoms

If your cat contracts leptospirosis, they may experience a variety of symptoms. Therefore, it's incredibly important to see your veterinarian, or an emergency vet, if you suspect your cat may have contracted the parasite.

Symptoms include:

  • 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 Leptospirosis is Contracted

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.

How will my cat be diagnosed 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 treatment options for leptospirosis in 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 to Expect After Your Cat Has Been Treated For 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.

Is your cat showing any of the signs of a leptospirosis infection? Contact our East Setauket vets to schedule an examination for your feline friend.