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Leptospirosis: What you Need to Know

Published on January 31, 2017

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The leptospirosis vaccine is one of 6 preventative vaccines Pender offers to protect your canine companion. But, what is Leptospirosis? And does your dog need it?


What is Leptospirosis? 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread primarily by contaminated water sources outdoors. The bacteria itself is found in the urine of wild animals, which then can infect any nearby soil and water sources. Leptospirosis has many different sub-types but all can cause disease.

Where is Leptospirosis found? 

This is a worldwide disease – dogs and people around the world are at risk and may need protection.

In Fairfax Virginia this past year 92 dogs were tested by the two largest reference laboratories and 12 tests were confirmed positive. In the past 5 years 59 cases have tested positive. There were undoubtedly more cases that were never tested or confirmed in our area.

How are dogs infected? 

Dogs can become infected through a variety of ways. The leptospirosis bacteria can be viable for several months in moist soil and can infect your pet through mucous membranes as well as abraded, scratched, or WATER SOFTENED skin. This means drinking from a contaminated stream, walking through water with a cut on the paw, splashing water into the eyes/nose, or, just standing in water long enough to soften the skin could put your pet at risk.

Any pet that spends time outdoors could be at risk for leptospirosis. If you live in an area heavily populated with any of the rodents specifically known to carry the disease, infection becomes even more likely. Rodents that can carry the leptospirosis bacteria include:

Raccoon, mouse, opossum, hedgehog, vole, fox, skunk, bandicoot, weasel, nutria, woodchuck, ape, civet, muskrat, mongoose, armadillo, skunk, squirrel, shrew, and mole.

What Happens after infection? 

Once the leptospira bacteria enters the dog’s body it can travel through the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver, spleen, CNS (central nervous system), eyes, and genital tract. The liver and kidneys are most often affected. Once imbedded in a particular tissue the bacteria can start to multiply.

It takes about 7 days from when the bacteria first entered the dog’s body, to the time when they start to appear sick.

What are the signs of Leptospirosis infection? 

Different dogs will have different symptoms depending on where the bacteria are in their body.

Symptoms can include fever (103-104 F), shivering, muscle tenderness, vomiting, dehydration, jaundice, increased thirst and urination, rapid breathing, rapid irregular pulse, bleeding and vasculitis leading to bruising, vomiting blood, blood in the stool, and general malaise.

Bloodwork that reveals elevations in kidney values, liver values, and especially both values, is suspicious for leptospirosis.

What is the treatment? 

Leptospirosis is often treated with IV fluid therapy in the hospital and antibiotics. Some dogs go on to make a complete recovery, however, permanent kidney and/or liver damage is possible. Even with aggressive care some patients do not recover.

Human Exposure 

Leptospirosis is not just an important infection for dogs. Humans are also susceptible to this disease and we can become infected from the same sources, or even from our own pet, if they have become infected.

Previously infected dogs can sometimes shed the virus for several months in their urine. It is important to always practice good hygiene when you come in contact with any animal’s urine. Wear gloves if you can. If you were not able to wear gloves wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible. Try to avoid contact between urine and any open cuts or mucous membranes.

What can I do to protect my Pet? 

Minimizing contact with potentially contaminated water and rodents will help prevent this disease in your pet. If your dog likes to play in lakes and streams, or drinks standing water outside, you should strongly consider the leptospirosis vaccine. The vaccine should also be considered if rodents frequently spend time in your yard. Remember, the moist soil may harbor live bacteria for months.

The Leptospirosis vaccine at Pender is a four way vaccine to help protect against multiple different strains of the bacteria. The initial vaccine series is two shots 3-4 weeks apart. A booster is then performed once every year.

At your next visit, ask your veterinarian if the leptospirosis vaccine is right for you and your pet.

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Article by: Dr. Lentz

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