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Leptospirosis in Pets


               This has been a WET spring so far! Many areas in and around York received more than 3 inches of rain in a matter of days earlier this month which is more rain than we typically see for the entire month of April! Why do we care about all this rain? Wet weather can increase exposure of both dogs and humans to a potentially deadly bacterial infection called leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a serious disease caused by several strains of spirochete bacteria.  Leptospirosis cases have been increasing in the United States.  While more common in warm humid areas, leptospirosis has been found in all states. Leptospirosis can also cause serious illness in people.  Let’s learn more about symptoms, how it’s spread, and how to protect yourself and your dog.

               Leptospirosis is found in the urine of many wild mammals including raccoons, skunks, squirrels and rodents.  Urine from wildlife can contaminate streams, ponds, marshy areas and even puddles.  But leptospirosis is not limited to rural or wooded areas.  Many suburban yards are pretty saturated due to heavy rains.  In addition, rats and mice can act as a reservoir in urban areas, so city life does not necessarily mean your dog is low risk.  If a dog drinks from an infected body of water or from a bucket or puddle contaminated with the bacteria, he can become infected.  Bacteria can also enter the body through cuts in the skin.  People can be infected in a similar way by drinking or swimming in infected water or by contact with urine from an infected dog or other animal.

               All dogs are potentially at risk; however, hunting dogs, farm dogs and dogs that go swimming or camping are at higher risk.  Once infected, bacteria enter the bloodstream then the kidneys and other tissues where they multiply and are shed in urine.  Not all infected dogs show symptoms, but many become ill.  Symptoms include fever, vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite and jaundice.  Infection can damage both the kidneys and liver and it can be fatal.  Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics and supportive care, but it must be treated early before significant damage to the liver and kidneys occurs.  Symptoms in humans are similar to those listed above.

               Leptospirosis can also infect horses, cattle and pigs.  In the past, it was thought that cats did not become infected or show symptoms of leptospirosis, but recent studies suggest there may be a link between leptospirosis in cats and chronic kidney disease. Cats are thought to contract the disease by eating infected rodents. More research is needed, and, to date, no feline vaccine exists.

Prevention includes not allowing pets to drink from ponds, streams, or puddles and vaccinating your dog.  While vaccines are not 100% protective, vaccination provides reasonable protection from this potentially deadly disease and reduces the chance that your family could be exposed.  Prevent human exposure by not swimming in potentially infected waters, not drinking unfiltered water from ponds or streams, and avoiding direct contact with animal urine.

Leptospirosis is a potentially deadly illness that can infect both dogs and people and may be linked to kidney disease in cats. Protect your family and pet by following the guidelines above and by vaccinating dogs annually.

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.