Sully’s Story: Puppy battles leptospirosis

October 23, 2023

Meet Sully, a two-and-a-half-month-old Golden Retriever puppy that joined his family with the assistance of the Foothills Kiwanis of Boulder Valley through their Alert Service Dogs for Kids program. Unfortunately, after only a few weeks with his new family, Sully stopped eating and fell ill with leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a disease that can affect humans and animals.  While the wet spring and fall of 2023 has been a wonderful reprieve from our drier years, the increased moisture has increased the risk of our pets developing infection.  While some pets can become carriers and suffer little, many can develop a severe infection, often causing injury to the kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system, and sometimes the lungs. If left untreated, these infections can often be fatal.

Sully experienced an acute kidney injury, a disease process that ranges in severity, but unfortunately, Sully’s kidneys stopped working all altogether, seen in about 30% of pets with leptospirosis.  Despite traditional therapies, Sully stopped producing urine, and the toxins, normally filtered by his kidneys, started to accumulate in his blood.  Anuric kidney failure is one of the more severe forms of acute kidney injury as the toxins that accumulate cause widespread inflammation, other organ dysfunction, and can even stop the heart.   

Treatment for advanced kidney failure involves treating the underlying disease, leptospirosis in Sully’s case, while also removing the toxins accumulating in the blood with dialysis. Unfortunately, most dialysis machines are created to treat adults, and Sully was nowhere near an adult dog at just 10 weeks old, let alone the size of an adult human. While special adaptations of these adult machines have been used to treat our smallest patients, challenges that affected outcomes persisted. 

In 2021, the CarpediemTM, a new dialysis machine designed to improve outcomes for the smallest and most fragile human babies, became available in the US. CASE was fortunate enough to be the third veterinary hospital in the world to bring this platform to our critically ill veterinary patients in 2023. 

Most pets treated for acute kidney injury require 5-7 days in hospital where they receive 3-4 dialysis treatments. At this time, the pets are feeling much better and are discharged to their owners, though they do need to return 2-3 times a week for dialysis treatments. Many pets suffering an acute kidney injury recover in 2-4 weeks, though the recovery period lasts for about 3 months and some pets require dialysis through recovery.

Out of all the causes of acute kidney injury, leptospirosis tends to be the most favorable with greater than 80% no longer requiring dialysis with most only requiring 1-2 weeks of treatment. For Sully he rebounded quickly, only requiring 2 prolonged dialysis treatments on the CarpediemTM over about a 5-day period. With his kidneys recovering he started to produce urine and his kidneys alone were able to clear the toxins like they did before the injury. That said, Sully still has his work cut out for him. He returned home to train to be a diabetic alert dog for his 11-year-old human after earning Kiwanis’ Coolest Dog on the Front Range award!