By Dr John Rand, D.V.M. –
Leptospirosis (“Lepto”) is a deadly bacterial disease of wildlife, livestock, pets, and people. The bacteria are spread primarily through the urine of infected animals. Raccoons, rats, squirrels, skunks, foxes, and pigs are all capable of shedding the bacteria. In one national study, nearly 50% of some raccoon populations harbored the disease.
Once in the grass, soil, puddles, and ponds, the bacteria can survive many months, even years in our area, since a freeze is often necessary to kill the organisms. Dogs that spend much time outdoors, at parks, in water, woods, or live in areas with any of the above wildlife are most at risk. Not just “hunting dogs” contract the disease, either. Small breeds, like Yorkies and Chihuahuas, are among the most commonly diagnosed. Assessing risk is difficult to impossible, as even strictly indoor lapdogs must go outside some time, and your dog coming in contact with some wet grass where a squirrel or rat has urinated in the past year is all but a guarantee.
Diagnosing the disease, though, can often be problematic, as the initial signs are non-specific and can mimic any number of diseases. Signs include:
• Decreased appetite
• Painful belly
• Changes in urination
If caught early, the disease usually responds well to antibiotics and hospitalization. If untreated however, the disease causes severe kidney and liver damage, and up to one in five dogs will die. Those animals that do recover can have long-lasting internal organ damage and significantly decreased quality of life.
Prevention is key. An annual vaccination against the most common strains of Lepto is the best means of assuring your dog is protected. The yearly injection is both safe and effective and is certainly healthier and more economical than treating the disease and its aftermath.
Globally, Lepto is one of the most widespread zoonotic (capable of being spread from animals to humans) diseases. Reduce your own risk of contracting Lepto by: vaccinating your dog, avoiding water potentially contaminated by wildlife, especially standing water, and by practicing general, good hygiene.