Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that is transmitted from contact with urine from other infected animals such as skunks, raccoons, rodents, dogs, cattle, pigs, and others. The bacteria, Leptospira interrogans has over 200 subtypes identified world-wide. Each sub-type is adapted to a particular type of animal, and many animals harbor the bacteria without any problems. People can contract the illness from contact with contaminated water, soil, food, as well as fluids or excrement from their own dog if she or he is harboring the disease. The bacteria enters the body when inhaled, consumed, or absorbed through wounds or damaged skin.
In our area, most cases are identified in summer and late fall. According to Dr. Jane Sykes of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are seeing more cases in our area. The bacteria dies in freezing or very dry, hot climates. It is more common in tropical areas, or places with very high rainfall.
The bacteria affects the kidney, liver, or both simultaneously. Symptoms include weight loss, low energy, fever, bloody urine, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle or joint pain, increased thirst, bloody urine, jaundice tissue, bleeding, difficulty breathing, and uveitis-an eye abnormality. If your canine companion displays these symptoms and has exposure, immediate medical care is recommended.
Leptospirosis is diagnosed based on physical exam findings, suspected exposure, and blood work. The mainstay of treatment is antibiotics. Most patients commonly need hospitalization with supportive care including intravenous fluids. If therapy is not administered early on, the disease can be fatal. Pet owners of infected canines need to use great care in dealing with fluids and excrement from their pet to prevent the spread of disease. It is recommended to leash walk dogs to a designated concrete area that can be easily disinfected with bleach.
Vaccination is the cornerstone of prevention. This is not considered a core vaccine, so many dogs do not have protection. The vaccination is given based on lifestyle and suspected exposure. If your dog goes camping, hiking, hunting, boating, lake swimming, or paticipates in other activites in areas where there are rodents and wildlife he/she should be innoculated. Male, young, large-breed, outdoor dogs are most commonly affected.
Cattle are vaccinated in areas of high risk. There is currently no vaccination for horses, although some practitioners have utilized the cattle vaccination in endemic areas.
Currently most canine vaccinations protect against only two types of Leptospirosis; but there is a vaccine available that protects against four types. Initially a series of two injections will be given, three weeks apart; and then annually. Some dogs have an allergic reaction to this vaccine, so it is suggested to give it seperately from other vaccinations, and monitor your pet closely. Your veterinarian can guide you in the process of deciding if your canine should be innoculated against Leptospirosis.