How to Spot and Treat Leptospirosis in Cats

Grey tabby kitten with adult grey cat
Some cats don't get along with new kittens right away

 Getty Images/Aurimas Skirmantas/EyeEm

Dogs have a leptospirosis vaccine available to them, but since this disease is not very common in cats, there isn't a feline version of the vaccine. This is why knowing how to protect your cat from lepto is the best way to decrease the likelihood of this bacteria infecting them. In addition, knowing what symptoms it causes can help you get your cat the help it needs if it does get infected.

What is Leptospirosis in Cats?

Leptospirosis, commonly referred to as lepto, is a bacterial infection of one or various types of Leptospria bacterial. It can occur in people and dogs as well as several other species of animals, including cats.

What Causes Leptospirosis in Cats?

Just like other species, cats most commonly get leptospirosis from stagnant water that has been contaminated by another infected animal. Since leptospirosis is passed through urine, if a wild animal is infected and it urinates somewhere that your cat comes in contact with, they can then pick it up.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Cats

Kidney damage

  • Weight loss
  • Increased water consumption
  • Halitosis
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in coat condition
  • Changes in urination

A cat may not show symptoms of a leptospirosis infection right away, but it is thought that chronic renal disease may sometimes be because of an undiagnosed lepto infection.

The kidneys are one part of the body where the leptospira bacteria live when they infect a cat. The renal tubules in the kidneys are often damaged. As the body builds immunity to the leptospira that it is infected with, the bacteria will be eliminated from the body everywhere but the kidneys. This is why the kidneys seem to suffer the most damage in an infected cat.

Common signs of kidney issues in cats include excessive weight loss, bad breath, excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, poor coat quality, increased urine production, dilute urine, and urinating outside the litter box. The average owner won't notice these symptoms until their cat has lost enough weight or obviously isn't feeling well. It is then that they decide to bring their cat into the vet for a check-up.

Diagnosing Leptospirosis in Cats

Since it isn't a common disease in cats, leptospirosis is not routinely tested for. But if a cat is showing symptoms of kidney disease, blood work will be run to check for elevations in renal enzyme levels. In order to diagnose a cat with leptospirosis, specific tests to recognize antibodies in the blood or Leptospira DNA in the blood or urine will need to be run.

Treating Leptospirosis in Cats

If a cat is diagnosed with leptospirosis, antibiotics like doxycycline will be prescribed to kill the bacteria. Doxycycline can have serious side effects so it is not often prescribed unless necessary, especially in cats that also have kidney disease.

If a cat has also been diagnosed with kidney damage, additional treatment will be necessary to manage that chronic, secondary disease. Fluid administration either under the skin, by IV, or by increasing liquid consumption at home is often recommended. Special diets to restrict phosphorus and protein levels, and supplements like fish oil to improve kidney function, and potassium to increase mineral levels are often prescribed. Various medications to treat the variety of issues that renal disease can cause may also be discussed.

Your veterinarian will monitor your cat's kidney enzyme blood levels with regular blood work and your job will be to administer the medications and other treatments to your cat.

Kidney disease is life long since there is no cure for it. The goal is to slow progression, decrease the stress that is placed on the kidneys, and minimize symptoms in order to lengthen your cat's quality of life.

Zoonotic Potential of Leptospirosis

It is very important for any cat owner to remember that leptospirosis is zoonotic. This means that your cat can give you this infection if you are not careful. People with compromised immune systems are especially susceptible to contracting leptospirosis and should take caution to avoid getting urine in their mouth and eyes. Gloves should be worn when cleaning the litter box and any other places containing infected urine.

Preventing Leptospirosis in Your Cat

Since there is no vaccination for lepto in cats, the best thing you can do to prevent them from getting it is to keep it indoors. Indoor cats are at a much lower risk of contracting many injuries and diseases, including leptospirosis.