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feline health problems

The essentials

  • Leptospirosis in cats is rare — If your cat does develop it, cases are generally mild. However, leptospirosis may result in long-term kidney disease.
  • No pet is safe from the threat of leptospirosis — The bacteria that causes it is found worldwide in soil and water. Dogs are more susceptible to leptospirosis than cats.
  • Pet owners are at risk, too — Leptospirosis affects animals and humans. It’s possible (though unlikely) that your cat can infect you.
  • Keep your cat indoors to prevent leptospirosis — You’ll protect your cat and other animals, too. Infected cats often display no symptoms of leptospirosis but can still be carriers of the disease.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease most commonly caused when pets come into contact with contaminated soil, water, food, or bedding. There are more than 260 strains of the Leptospira bacteria, including Canicola, Icterohaemorrhagiae, Pomona, and Grippotyphosa. Dogs are generally vaccinated for these strains, but unfortunately, there is no vaccine available for cats.

While infection is rare among cats and cases are generally mild, leptospirosis can cause liver and kidney failure. Dogs may even develop severe lung disease or bleeding disorders. In cats, it is thought that leptospirosis may be responsible for the development of chronic renal failure at a later date.

How cats get exposed to leptospirosis

Outdoor cats have a much higher risk of contracting leptospirosis than indoor-only cats. In the outdoors, cats may have contact with the urine of infected animals that may be found in the soil, standing water, and on plants. There’s also a greater chance cats will suffer cuts and abrasions, which lead to moist, weakened skin where bacteria may enter the body.

Cats can also become infected by coming in direct contact with wild animals. For example, cats that hunt and eat infected mice may become ill with leptospirosis.

Southwestern states appear to have a lower risk of leptospirosis. While the highest number of cases occur in the late summer and fall, different regions of the U.S. may experience varying caseloads.

🚨 Leptospirosis is transmissible between pets and people, so if your pet has been diagnosed with the disease, wash your hands after handling your pet and wear gloves when cleaning the litter box or cleaning up vomit.

Symptoms of leptospirosis in cats

Leptospirosis is less well understood for cats than dogs, but in general, cats rarely show symptoms at the time they’re infected. Researchers say that there may be a link to future chronic kidney disease. Signs of kidney damage in cats can include:

  • Weight loss. As kidney damage sets in, toxins build up in the bloodstream, contributing to nausea. When your cat feels nauseated, they won’t want to eat, which leads to weight loss.
  • Vomiting. The nausea felt by cats in kidney failure can cause vomiting. They may vomit bile, a greenish-yellow substance produced in the gallbladder. Excessive vomiting can also lead to dehydration.
  • Diarrhea. In addition to nausea and vomiting, toxin buildup can lead to diarrhea in cats suffering from kidney failure.
  • Lethargy. A cat that doesn’t feel well is going to be less active than normal, especially if kidney damage is setting in.
  • Changes in urination. Damaged kidneys are unable to conserve water and concentrate urine well, so your cat will urinate more. Excessive urination can also lead to accidents outside the litter box.
  • Increased thirst. To help flush out toxins, your cat will want to drink more, which also contributes to increased urination.
  • Poor grooming. A cat that doesn’t feel well won’t groom as much as usual. Systemic diseases, like kidney failure, can also contribute to hair loss because of an overall weakened condition.
  • Pain. Cats with kidney damage may become irritable and uncomfortable when touched. Infection causes painful, swollen kidneys, muscles, joints, and gastrointestinal tissue.
  • Bad breath. At end-stage kidney failure, your cat’s breath may smell slightly like ammonia.
  • Hematuria. Red blood cells can become damaged and will be passed in the urine, causing the urine to appear red or dark brown.

How to prevent your cat from getting leptospirosis

There are several steps you can take to prevent your cat from getting leptospirosis.

Keep your cat indoors — Keeping your cat indoors greatly reduces or completely eliminates their risk for a ton of diseases. Not only will keeping your cat inside help prevent leptospirosis, it will also fend off a host of other communicable diseases between cats.

Prevent your cat from drinking standing water — If your cat does go outdoors, ensure they have fresh, clean water to drink. Dump out bowls, plant pots, and other containers that may trap water to prevent cats from drinking stagnant water.

Keep rodents out of your home — Eating infected rodents is a major source of leptospirosis infection in cats. If mice are getting into your home, hire an exterminator to block their entrance points and eradicate the infestation. Any rodenticides should be well out of reach from cats.

Vaccinate your dog for leptospirosis — Since leptospirosis can be transmitted from pet to pet, vaccinate your dog for leptospirosis. If your dog is protected, they won’t become infected and pass the disease on to you or your cat.

Invest in a cat water fountain — Fresh, clean water is essential for preventing leptospirosis. Plus, giving your feline friend the opportunity to drink fresh water from a cat water fountain encourages them to drink more. This can improve kidney, bladder, and overall health.

Frequently asked questions

Can cats get leptospirosis?

Cats can get leptospirosis, although it is rare.

How do I know if my cat has leptospirosis?

Your veterinarian will take a blood or urine sample from your cat to definitively diagnose leptospirosis. If you suspect your cat has leptospirosis, use caution when interacting with your pet. Wear gloves when cleaning their litter box or accidents outside the litter box. Leptospirosis can be transmitted to you from your cat.

Can cats survive leptospirosis?

Yes, cats can survive leptospirosis. Treatment with antibiotics and intravenous fluids will eliminate the bacteria while supporting kidney function. However, chronic kidney disease can develop as a result of a leptospirosis infection — chronic kidney disease is typically fatal for cats.

How common is leptospirosis in cats?

Leptospirosis is rare in cats, especially in indoor cats. In fact, it was once thought that cats couldn’t get leptospirosis. Additionally, even if a cat does become infected with Leptospira bacteria, they rarely develop clinical signs. If they do develop disease, symptoms are usually mild.

Can cats be vaccinated against leptospirosis?

No. There is no vaccine available for leptospirosis in cats. However, there is one available for dogs. To prevent this disease from being transmitted to other pets and people in your household, vaccinate your dog.