Don’t Let Leptospirosis Ruin The Dog Days of Summer (and Fall!)

Sep 12, 2019 | Dogs, Infectious Diseases

Does your dog like to swim in ponds or creeks? Drink from natural sources of water? Dig through other peoples’ garbage? If so, there’s a chance it could catch a dangerous disease called Leptospirosis, or Lepto for short.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of dogs and other mammals that primarily affects the liver or kidneys. It can infect and be spread by all mammals. This includes wildlife like deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, rats, mice, and even squirrels. Infected or recovered “carrier” dogs may act as a source of the infection as well.

How Leptospirosis is Spread

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is spread in urine. If the urine is deposited in a cool, dark, damp area it can persist there for up to two months. Lepto does not survive well in sunny, dry environments.

Leptospirosis is Most Likely During Sunny Months

Considering that Lepto likes it cool, there is a surprising increase in leptospirosis during late summer and the fall. This is likely due to the dry conditions slowing down the flow of water in streams and ponds. This makes small pools that the bacteria can hide out in. So, keep your pet away from areas like this through the “dog days of summer.”

How Your Pet Can Become Infected with Leptospirosis

Dogs can become infected with Lepto by eating/drinking infected urine or contaminated garbage, but some forms of the bacteria can penetrate directly through the skin. For instance, when dogs swim in contaminated water.

How to Tell if Your Dog has Leptospirosis

The signs of leptospirosis are very vague. They could include increased drinking and urination, vomiting, or even just lethargy. When you bring your pet in for non specific signs like this, it is a good idea to run bloodwork.

Treating Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a very weak bacteria, and it is very easy to treat with antibiotics. The patients respond quickly if they are seen in a timely manner. However, the incubation period (from infection to onset of clinical signs) is usually four to twelve days following exposure to Leptospirosis bacteria. So, by the time of diagnosis most dogs already have significant damage to their kidneys and liver.

Humans Are Also Susceptible to Leptospirosis

You are a mammal also. As such, Leptospirosis can infect you and your children. It can be devastating. If your pet is diagnosed with leptospirosis, you NEED to follow up with your primary care physician.

Preventing Leptospirosis

Like parvo, rabies, and many other diseases, Lepto is much easier and safer to prevent than treat.There is a yearly vaccine for leptospirosis. If your dog plays outside regularly, I recommend getting it. In the past, some animals had adverse reactions to the vaccine. However, newer vaccines are much improved.

How the Leptospirosis Vaccine Works

The most common Leptospirosis vaccine covers 4 of the 256 bacterial variants. These four are the most common variants encountered in our area, and there is some cross protection with the other variants.

If you suspect your dog has Leptospirosis, or if you are interested in preventing the disease from infecting your animal, contact us to schedule an appointment for treatment or vaccine.

— Dr. Ryan McKenna

For more information, contact our team at VETSS, a Charlottesville VA urgent care animal hospital!

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