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Leptospirosis in Horses

Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria that infect the mucous membrane of horses becoming bacteremic and potentially affecting other vital organs and functions. Our Gillette vets share some information about leptospirosis in horses, what the symptoms are and how it can be treated and prevented.

What is Leptospirosis in Horses?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in many animals and has the ability to be spread to humans that come into contact with the bacteria. Horses become infected with Leptospirosis when mucus membranes (in their eyes, mouth, and nose) or cuts and scratches on the legs come into contact with infected urine or blood. Horses can also become infected with Leptospirosis by ingesting hay or grain and water that has been contaminated with the infected urine of other animals.

What Are The Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Horses?

The typical symptoms of Leptospirosis in horses may include depression, fever, loss of appetite, and uveitis which occurs when inflammation within your horse's eye causes tearing, swelling, discharge, and cloudiness. If your horse frequently experiences uveitis have the risk of becoming blind. If the infection caused by Leptospirosis is severe enough it can put the horse at risk of kidney and liver failure. Unfortunately, in the case of pregnant mares, Leptospirosis can also cause abortion. 

While there is no way to determine how many horses are typically affected by Leptospirosis, it is believed that nearly half of all horses will be exposed to this condition at some point in their lives.

How is Leptospirosis in Horses Diagnosed and Treated?

The most straightforward method for the diagnosis of Leptospirosis in horses is through the use of a bacterial culture, serology, or PCR assay. Unfortunately, it is often not able to be conducted due to technical and cost limitations.

Diagnosis of incidental or clinical infections in cattle is completed through a microagglutination test (MAT) which will show the antibodies to the Leptospirosis infection. If this is the case and the antibodies are discovered at an elevated level then they would also be able to be detected in the placenta and fetus by using immunofluorescence, PCR assay, and immunohistochemistry.

The treatment of Leptospirosis in horses includes the use of local and topical immunosuppressive agents as well as administering systemic antimicrobials such as penicillin. If the horse is experiencing uveitis then the vet will likely recommend intravitreal injections of low-dose gentamicin in order to prevent further episodes of uveitis. 

How Can Leptospirosis in Horses be Prevented?

The prevention of Leptospirosis in horses is done using a relatively new vaccine. This vaccine is safe for use on horses that are at least 6 months old and is a viable option for the protection of mares throughout pregnancy to avoid abortion caused by the infection.

It is recommended to ensure good management of your farm by keeping wild animals away from your horses, their feed and their water. Be sure to replenish water sources often.

It is important for it to be noted that veterinarians and animal caretakers have an increased risk of contracting Leptospirosis, which means that those in these professions should be sure to avoid contact with the urine of infected 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.

If you would like to learn more about how you can protect your horse from conditions such as Leptospirosis, please contact our Gillette veterinary team.

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