Zoonotic Leptospirosis

Domestic cats from urban and rural environments are exposed to Leptospira bacteria and they might be a zoonotic vector of the disease. The purpose of this article is to increase the awareness of Leptospira infection among veterinarians and pet owners and to instigate appropriate preventive measures in cats with a higher risk of infection.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death. Cats can be infected and be hosts of Leptospira. Given that the clinical leptospirosis is difficult to recognize or is less frequent in cats than in other animal species, it is possible that the infection may be underdiagnosed in cats, especially in cats that have a history of living outdoor or that have the habit of hunting.

Cats of rural origin have higher titres of anti-Leptospira antibodies (25%) in contrast with the urban cats (3%). In rural settings, a high risk of contracting this zoonotic infection could be expected because these environments often contain livestock, rodents and small mammals, which are usual reservoirs of Leptospira bacteria. Indirect contact between Leptospira and susceptible animals could occur from soil and water contaminated with the urine of Leptospira carriers. Dogs are considered important reservoirs for pathogenic Leptospira because these animals develop high concentration of the bacteria in the urine which lasts long time. It has been noted that cats with anti-Leptospira antibodies (titres of 1:200 and higher can be related to a clinical disease) lived with dogs and had rodent-hunting habits.

Water is considered an important environmental factor in the maintenance of Leptospira and once contaminated with urine from infected animals, it is a significant factor in the transmission of the infection. If water is extracted from natural aquatic sources for irrigation of gardens or orchards, for example, or for other agricultural activities, it is possible that this water will be contaminated and that the bacteria will survive in the humid soil. Domestic dogs located in an area with frequent flooding were associated with leptospirosis. Cats that dwelled in places where their owners performed agricultural activities using water from streams or backwater were 38 times more likely be infected. Eco-friendly conditions allow the maintenance of leptospires in the environment.

Black cat


  1. Leptospira spp. in Domestic Cats from Different Environments: Prevalence of Antibodies and Risk Factors Associated with the Seropositivity. Lucía Azócar-Aedo et al.

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