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Leptospirosis in Horses

Leptospirosis in Horses

Leptospirosis is a condition caused by bacteria infecting the mucous membrane of horses, becoming bacteremic and potentially affecting vital organs and functions. Here, Southern Wisconsin 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?

Common signs of Leptospirosis in horses include sadness, fever, reduced appetite, and uveitis, which leads to eye inflammation causing tearing, swelling, discharge, and cloudiness. Frequent episodes of uveitis can eventually lead to blindness. In severe cases, Leptospirosis can harm the kidneys and liver, putting the horse at risk of failure. Unfortunately, pregnant mares can experience abortion due to Leptospirosis.

While the exact number of horses affected by Leptospirosis is unknown, it is estimated that nearly half of all horses will encounter 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?

A relatively new vaccine is available to prevent Leptospirosis in horses. This vaccine is safe for horses that are at least 6 months old and can be used to protect pregnant mares from infection, reducing the risk of abortion.

To maintain a healthy environment, it is advisable to practice good farm management by keeping wild animals away from your horses, their food, and their water. Regularly replenishing water sources is also important.

It should be noted that veterinarians and animal caretakers have a higher risk of contracting Leptospirosis, so it is crucial for individuals in these professions 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 your Southern Wisconsin veterinary team.

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