Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria. These bacteria can be found worldwide in soil and water. There are many strains of Leptospira bacteria that can cause disease. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people. Infection in people can cause flu-like symptoms and can cause liver or kidney disease. In the United States, most cases of human leptospirosis result from recreational activities involving water. Infection resulting from contact with an infected pet is much less common, but it is possible. Leptospirosis is more common in areas with warm climates and high annual rainfall but it can occur anywhere.
Leptospirosis is carried by wildlife such as rats, raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, and deer and is found in places where they may urinate, including lakes, streams, puddles, or soil in your backyard. But this doesn’t mean that only dogs that swim in lakes or lick up puddles can be exposed! Any dog that regularly goes outside is potentially at risk of contracting this disease.
While the leptospirosis vaccine is not currently a required immunization for dogs, it is highly recommended for any dog that commonly goes outside, even just to go to the bathroom in the backyard. Small breed dogs and dogs that live in urban environments may at first seem to have a lower risk, but are in fact the most frequent patients in veterinary hospitals that are diagnosed with leptospirosis! It is important to understand that even if your dog is vaccinated, there is not a 100% guarantee that they will not contract leptospirosis. The current vaccine only protects against certain types of the multiple different variations of Leptospira bacteria that cause leptospirosis. However, having your dog vaccinated does decrease their risk of becoming sick with leptospirosis.
Features of Leptospirosis
Generally younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals. In general, whenever your dog is acting sick or are not behaving normally, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Specifically, if your dog is not currently vaccinated for leptospirosis or if you think your dog might have leptospirosis, please contact your family veterinarian to learn more.
Treatment and prevention
Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care. When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage. Currently available vaccines effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs. Reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of the Leptospira bacteria can reduce its chances of infection.
Although an infected pet dog presents a low risk of infection for you and your family, there is still some risk. If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, take the following precautions to protect yourself:
- Administer antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian;
- Avoid contact with your dog’s urine;
- If your dog urinates in your home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant and wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the urine;
- Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where people or other animals will have access;
- Wash your hands after handling your pet.
If you are ill or if you have questions about leptospirosis in people, consult your physician. If you are pregnant or immunocompromised (due to medications, cancer treatment, HIV or other conditions), consult your physician for advice.
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