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Leptospirosis- Important Facts To know On How To Keep You And You Pet Safe From This Deadly Disease!

Hi everyone!  With the recent news of an outbreak of Leptospirosis in the Northern states, I thought I would take a moment to go over the disease and how to keep you and your pets safe.  Leptospirosis is a fatal illness and is one of the few diseases that can be passed from pets to people.  In the past, leptospirosis was more prevalent in northern states, but in the last 5 to 10 years it has become a bigger problem in South Florida.  Fortunately, I have been encouraging my clients to have their pets vaccinated for leptospirosis ever since I graduated veterinary school and most of my patients are protected.  As much as hearing these stories on the news is a bit of a wakeup call for many people, I am appreciative of the knowledge the stories spread.  Today I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the basics of this disease, what clinical signs to look for, and how we can protect our pets and ourselves.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an bacterial infectious disease that can affect many animals, including wildlife, rodents, dogs, and people.  There are many strains of leptospira which are most commonly located in areas of prevalent rain fall and water.

How does leptospirosis spread?

The most common way that our pets contract this disease is through water that has been contaminated with urine by an infected animal.  Most pets will contract the disease by swimming in or drinking infected water, but most anything (plants, dirt, objects) can be potential sources of infection.  Other ways of transmitting the disease are direct contact with another infected animal or by eating infected meat.
Once animals are infected with this disease, they can serve as reservoirs and may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment for months or even years, which may then live in the environment for weeks to months.

There are very few diseases that animals can pass along to people.  Unfortunately, leptospirosis in one of these few diseases, making this disease even more important to protect your pets from. According to the CDC, people can contract leptospirosis in the same ways your dog can, through contact with urine or other body fluids (except saliva) from an infected animal or by contact with other contaminated sources. Person to person transmission is rare.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis infection in dogs?

  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain, stiffness, reluctance to move
  • Weakness and depression
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or coughing
  • Jaundice (yellowish color to the skin)
  • Organ failure (kidney or liver failure)

How is leptospirosis diagnosed in dogs?

Specialized blood tests, such as serology tests and PCR tests are available to arrive at a diagnosis of leptospirosis. I assess your dog’s leptospirosis vaccination status, information from your dog’s history, the likelihood of exposure, clinical symptoms and physical examination findings along with some routine and other more specialized blood tests to come to a diagnosis of leptospirosis.

Can leptospirosis be treated?

Yes this disease can be treated if caught early with antibiotics. This is a very serious disease so the earlier treatment begins, the better the odds of survival. Hospitalization, antibiotics, and supportive care (such as IV fluids to treat kidney disease) is be extremely important.

Can leptospirosis be prevented?

Yes, this disease can be prevented with a vaccination that I have been encouraging my clients to get for their pets for years.  The protocol for vaccination is 2 vaccines, 3 weeks apart, for the initial administration, and then a yearly vaccination thereafter.  There are many leptospira strains that can infect dogs, and the routine vaccination protects against most of them.  Vaccines can be very effective at providing protection against this disease, but no vaccine provides 100% protection against infection.

Be sure to speak with your veterinarian regarding which vaccine option is best suited for your pet’s specific needs and risks based on your geographic location (including places where you travel), their lifestyle (urban, rural, hunting etc.), and medical history.

Here are some basic steps to help decrease your dog’s risk of exposure to this disease:

  • Consider the increased risk associated with certain activities such as hunting, fishing or field trails. If your pets does engage in these type of activities, make sure they are vaccinated for leptospirosis
  • Try to minimize your dog’s contact with stagnant standing water and wildlife (including rodents).

If your dog shows any clinical signs consistent with leptospirosis or is at risk, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your pet needs to be seen after hours at an emergency clinic or at a specialty hospital,  bring current vaccination records with you so your veterinarian can assess risk and possible infection.  As always, keeping our pets safe and healthy is my top priority. Leptospirosis is an easily preventable disease with a routine yearly vaccination. Contact your veterinarian and make sure your pet is protected against this disease.

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