Leptospirosis – an old disease becomes relevant again.

There are several varieties of Leptospirosis that can infect wild animals, dogs, and people. The diseases associated with these bacteria have made a resurgence in recent years.  The disease is spread through the urine of infected animals, which can contaminate standing water in ponds or small pools.  Animals or people who drink or swim in these waters can become infected. . There have been cases reported of outbreaks in tri-athletes swimming in contaminated water.

The different strains of the bacteria can cause different disease signs. Systemic signs such as fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite are common with all strains. Vomiting is often a symptom, while some animals become jaundiced. Acute kidney failure is a common very serious manifestation of this disease. Bleeding into tissues can occur- which results in skin hemorrhages, vomiting of blood, and black stools. Liver failure, eye inflammation, meningitis, and lung inflammation with coughing can also occur. Some dogs die very suddenly.

These diseases are considered zoonotic, which means they can be spread from animals including dogs to people. As previously mentioned this is through the urine. If you suspect your pet may be infected be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect urine contaminated areas. Seek prompt veterinary care for your companion.

 Diagnosis of Leptospirosis is made by physical examination, urine, and blood tests. Often PCR tests are done on blood and urine to look for evidence of the bacteria. Titers are also sometimes used to help with diagnosis. These are special tests which must be done at a commercial laboratory.  Other blood tests check for kidney or liver failure, and for bleeding problems.

Treatment of these diseases almost always requires hospitalization and intensive care. Antibiotics are a mainstay of treatment to both kill the organisms and to eliminate shedding in the urine. Intravenous fluids on a continual basis are required during the acute phase of the disease. Other signs may need to be treated as they develop.

 Prevention of Leptospirosis involves vaccination. The newer generation of vaccines protect against four different strains of the disease. The immunization is often started when puppies begin their initial vaccine series for distemper and parvo virus. Boosters are recommended yearly which can usually be done when your dog’s annual exam is performed. In the past we emphasized vaccination for dog’s whose life style took them in the woods or those who went swimming frequently. Now many cases are reported in urban dogs including many in New York City. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s situation.  Vaccination is relatively inexpensive as compared with treatment which can easily cost thousands.

 Robert Aldrich, DVM

Veterinary Associates of Westville

Office web site

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