By now, many may have seen the news reports regarding a dog who contracted the bacteria, Leptospirosis. We would like to address this serious disease to increase its awareness as well as clear up some potential misconceptions or mis-information.
What is it?
Leptospirosis is a bacteria that thrives in standing water. Rodents, such as rats and mice, along with other mammals such as squirrels, skunks and raccoons can carry and transmit this bacteria via urine. Infection occurs when the pet ingests infected urine (such as drinking from contaminated standing water/puddles) or ingests rodent-contaminated garbage. Also, some forms of the bacteria can also penetrate damaged or thin, or broken, skin. For example, swimming in infected water, they could become potentially obtain the bacteria through skin.
The dogs at highest risk of obtaining Leptospirosis are dogs who are exposed to water near wildlife. Dogs who go camping, visit provincial, federal or municipal parks often are at higher risk, but dogs can even obtain this bacteria in their own backyards.
Unfortunately, this bacteria can be transmitted to people or other animals via ingestion of infected urine, or penetration through broken skin. This is another reason why we often vaccinate for this bacteria, to keep people safe.
What signs might I see?
There are many Leptospirosis strains which can cause three different forms of the disease:
Hemorrhagic (bleeding), liver failure, renal (kidney) failure. Each of these forms of the disease tend to begin with a fever, lethargy, and appetite loss. From this point, various signs could be seen depending on the location the leptospirosis attacks in the body.
How is my pet diagnosed?
Unfortunately, clinical signs can vary and easily appear similar to other diseases, thus definitive diagnosis can be difficult. Although there are laboratory tests that can be performed, they do take time. Blood samples taken during infection and repeated during the recovery phase of the disease can show an increase in Leptospira antibodies. In general, Leptospirosis is diagnosed through clinical signs and response to treatment.
How is this treated?
Antibiotics are reasonably effective if begun early. Most infected dogs require intensive care in a veterinary hospital. This involves hospitalization for a few days with supportive care, such as IV fluids, antibiotics along with treatment for clinical signs (such as anti-nausea medication for vomiting patients, as an example). An extended course of antibiotics may be prescribed during the recovery period to ensure all the Leptospira organisms are clear and the patient does not become a chronic carrier.
Can I prevent my pet from contracting this?
A vaccine is available from your veterinarian. Many of our patients are already vaccinated for leptospirosis, but it may not be appropriate for every dog. If you have questions regarding your pets' vaccine status and whether the vaccination is right for them, contact your veterinarian for more information. If you are concerned about your pet for any reason, please give us a call at 519-969-7390