Have you ever heard of leptospirosis? Did you know it can endanger not only you but your pets as well? Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease which can affect many animals, and while it is rare in cats, it is much more common in dogs. In addition to affecting animals, leptospirosis is a “zoonotic disease”, meaning it can be passed from animals to humans.
This disease is caused by a complex group of closely related bacteria of the genus Leptospira. There are several strains that occur in different locations and tend to affect certain species more than others.
This disease is contracted in several different ways; Leptospira bacteria survive especially well in warm, humid areas, and are often found in stagnant water or carried by wild animals. Therefore, dogs with a high level of exposure to contaminated water and wild animals and their urine are at a greater risk.
Adult dogs and large breed dogs appear to have a higher rate of infection. However, any dog can be exposed, since even urban wildlife such as rodents may carry the bacteria. Most infections happen in the summer and early fall, and outbreaks sometimes follow flooding.
How can you tell if your dog is infected with this bacteria or disease? There are several symptoms that can be good indicators, the severity certain symptoms depend on a few factors within the dog (age, immune response, vaccination status). Some dogs may have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but it is important to notice any of the following signs and symptoms as severe cases can be fatal.
Signs to look for are:
- Joint or muscle pain — this may manifest as a reluctance to move.
- Decreased appetite.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Discharge from nose and eyes.
- Frequent urination — may be followed by lack of urination.
- Yellowing of the gums, membranes around the eyes, and skin.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is vitally important to contact us to get proper medication for your pup, usually an antibiotic. The antibiotic is used in two stages, and the pup is given one type of antibiotic to treat the initial infection followed up with a different kind of antibiotic to combat the shedding of bacteria in the urine. The earlier treatment is started, the better as once the issue progresses liver failure or damage could follow and cause many serious repercussions.
It is better to prevent this nasty disease before it even becomes a threat. Ask your vet about whether it is offered in your area, as the vaccines are only produced for a few specific varieties of Leptospira, in areas where leptospirosis is common.These vaccines don’t offer long-lasting immunity, so they need to be repeated often.
Be sure to watch after your own health as well, as Leptospirosis can also affect humans. It can cause flu-like symptoms in people, which in some cases can progress to serious illness. If your pet has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, the risks can be managed primarily with careful hygiene.
It is important to always be careful, as an undiagnosed furry friend could be the biggest threat so be sure to adhere to these tips to remain healthy:
- Avoid contact with urine if possible, and wear protective clothing (gloves, etc.) if you need to handle urine.
- Practice good hygiene including careful hand washing.
- Disinfect surfaces where infected pets have urinated
- Follow your vet’s advice for treatment and make sure all medications are given as directed.
If any people in contact with a dog diagnosed with leptospirosis become ill, be sure to mention the dog’s illness to health care providers to ensure they receive proper diagnosis and treatment.