What Is Leptospirosis?

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What Is LeptospirosisIf you’re like me, you may have heard of Leptospirosis and the vaccination for the disease, but don’t fully understand what it is and how it can affect your dog. After learning that the disease is increasing in the United States and Canada, I wanted to know more about it. I didn’t realize how serious the disease is and how vital it is to get early treatment if your dog becomes infected. It’s important to know how it’s transmitted and what symptoms you should look for to protect yourself and your dog. So, what is Leptospirosis?

What exactly is it?

Leptospirosis (aka Lepto or field fever) is a serious infectious disease caused by the Leptospira bacteria that can affect animals as well as people. The disease is spread by the urine of infected animals (most often rats, pigs, raccoons, skunks, opossums and cattle). It’s most common in areas with warm, moist climates such as marshy regions or areas with stagnant water and abundant wildlife. Infections occur most often in the fall when the ground is wet. If untreated, the disease can cause liver and kidney failure in dogs.

How can my dog get it?

The bacteria is found in soil and water. When infected animals urinate on soil or near water sources, your dog could contract the disease by drinking from the water source or through a cut or scrape on the skin when walking on infected soil. It can also be passed to your dog from a bite from an infected animal.

Is my dog at high-risk of getting the disease?

If your dog spends a lot of time in water or drinks from puddles or stagnant water sources, she could be at increased risk for the disease. Hunting dogs, farm dogs and dogs that live near wooded areas can also be at increased risk. There is also a risk for dogs that spend time in kennels that haven’t been properly sanitized. Even if your dog never leaves your yard, she still could be at risk if an infected animal urinates in the yard since the bacteria can survive up to six months in some soils.

How would I know if my dog has the disease?

Some infected animals don’t display any signs of the disease and recover without antibiotics, but others can develop life threatening symptoms which require immediate treatment. The disease takes 4-12 days to reveal itself and usually the first sign owners notice is their dog has general malaise or is lethargic. Other symptoms include fever, shivering, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, yellow jaundiced eyes, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in urination, dehydration, runny nose, dark red speckled gums, coughing or difficulty breathing.

What should I do if I notice any symptoms?

See your veterinarian immediately. It’s imperative that the disease be treated early in order for your dog to have the best chance of recovery. Your vet will perform blood and urine tests along with clinical observations to determine if your dog has Lepto and prescribe the best course of treatment.

How is it treated?

If Lepto is caught early, it responds well to antibiotics. It’s important to note that even after treatment, your dog can become a carrier and shed bacteria in their urine for several months.

How can I prevent my dog from getting it?

Reduce your dog’s exposure to possible sources of contaminated water, eliminate any rodent problems and don’t feed or otherwise attract wild animals to your property. Consult with your veterinarian about the availability and benefit of an annual vaccination, especially if you have a dog that is at increased risk for the disease.

Can I catch it from my dog?

Although people usually contract Lepto from recreational water activities, it is zoonotic and can be transmitted to you from your dog. People as well as animals can suffer serious medical issues from Lepto, such as liver and kidney damage. Even though the risk is low that you may catch Lepto from your dog, always wear gloves if you come in contact with your dog’s urine and wash your hands after handling an infected pet. Make sure your dog doesn’t urinate in areas with standing water or where other people or animals could contract the disease.

I’m glad to now know more about this disease and what symptoms to look for. I’m also going to be more careful when I’m out hiking with Haley and we come across a stream or pool of water. She’s never had a Lepto vaccine, but it’s certainly worth discussing it with the vet during her next appointment.

Have you had any experience with this disease or the vaccination?

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6 Comments on “What Is Leptospirosis?”

      • My vet has never mentioned the Lepto vaccine before, but it’s something I’m planning on asking about during Haley’s next visit.

      • Thanks for stopping by and sharing the post, Sarah! I enjoyed checking out your blog, Lola and Rio are just gorgeous! 🙂

    • I’ve had Honey vaccinated for lepto once, on my vet’s recommendation. After we got rid of the car, I decided (with my vet’s advice) not to get her vaccinated again because she was less likely to find herself in areas with stagnant water.

      But your detail got me thinking. We’re currently trying to deal with a rat in the house. And I’m wondering if I need to call the vet to take extra measures to protect Honey until we can get the little rat bastard out of the house.

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