With fall upon us bringing cooler weather and rainy days dog owners should be aware of a relatively unknown and quite nasty bacterial disease called Leptospirosis. We do have a vaccine to protect against Lepto but it is not considered a “core” vaccine and many dog owners are unaware of the disease and that the vaccine is available.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria transmitted via the urine of an infected animal, most commonly wildlife such as rats, opossums, and raccoons. These animals urinate in standing water or moist soil where the Lepto bacteria can live for quite some time. Your dog then comes along and either drinks the contaminated water or steps in the puddle, which allows the bacteria to enter the blood stream through a cut in the skin or through mucus membranes such as eyes, mouth, or nose. People can become infected with Lepto either through contaminated water or via contact with the urine of an infected animal.
Though Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, if the infection is not caught early enough it can permanently damage the kidneys and/or liver, resulting in organ failure. Clinical signs include non-specific flu-like symptoms such as fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. With aggressive therapy consisting of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, dogs usually recover, however, in some cases the disease is too advanced by the time we catch it and ends up being fatal.
Wondering if your dog should be vaccinated? Talk with your veterinarian about the specific risks to your pet. Bear in mind that although the vaccination protects against the four most common strains of Leptospirosis, a vaccinated pet can still be infected with one of the many other strains of the bacteria. And, as with all vaccines, there is the risk of a vaccine reaction, something you’ll want to discuss with your veterinarian as well.
I strongly recommend the Lepto vaccine for all my canine patients, and my own dogs are vaccinated as well. I frequently take my dogs to the park and trails in my neighborhood, and feel much more comfortable knowing that I’ve done everything I can to protect them.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM