Spring is the season when we see an increase in certain infectious diseases. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First our pets our outside playing and we are taking them on weekend excursions so they have more exposure to potential infections. Second, with warmer weather, bacteria, viruses and parasites live longer in the environment. And, the third reason is that vectors (parasites like ticks and fleas, and wildlife like raccoons, opossums, foxes and skunks) are more active in our environments.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe illness in our pets (dogs, horses, cows) and it can cause severe illness in people. Cats are more resistant to the infection so they rarely show any signs of illness. Dogs on the other hand, can become severely ill and some dogs die from this infection. Depending on the type (strain) of the bacteria it can cause kidney failure, liver failure, bleeding, and spontaneous abortions.
The leptospirosis bacteria are transmitted through the urine of infected animals. Wildlife (opossums, raccoons, coyotes, foxes) can all be infected and spread the bacteria. When the soil is wet or there is standing water, the bacteria can live in the environment for several days. This allows the bacteria to still be present and infective when your pet walks through a wet area or when they drink from a puddle of standing water. Once your pet ingests the bacteria it can replicate in the kidneys and liver causing inflammation in these organs leading to organ damage and failure.
The clinical signs that you will see are: lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and possibly yellowing of the skin or mucous membranes. It is very important that this disease be diagnosed and treated aggressively very early on. Delays in treatment can lead to permanent damage to the kidneys, liver and / or the death of the pet.
Treatment includes intravenous fluids to replace fluid losses from the vomiting and diarrhea, nutritional support since pets are not eating, and antibiotics that are effective against this bacteria. Most pets are in the hospital for 1-2 weeks while they are being treated. Special precautions have to be taken while the pet is in the hospital to prevent transmission of the infection to people.
Leptospirosis can be difficult to definitively diagnose. You can help decrease your pets risk of infection by keeping your pet away from standing water. This includes ornamental ponds and fountains that we may have in our yards. Replace any bowls of water that are left outside with fresh water every morning. Wild life are more active in the evenings and early morning, they will use our pets water bowls and our ornamental ponds as a water source. Discuss vaccination against leptospirosis with your primary veterinarian. This vaccine is not 100% protective but it may help boost a dogs immune system if they are at higher risk of being exposed to the bacteria.
If you pet shows any signs of illness, please seek medical attention for your pet as soon as possible. The earlier any illness is treated the better the outcome for your pet.