Leptospirosis and Your Dog

What is it?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria. There are multiple different strains; these bacteria can be found in any mammal and are commonly found in wildlife, including raccoons, skunks, opossums, deer, and rats. Wildlife spread the bacteria through urine, thus dogs get infected through contact with water (drinking water or cuts contacting water).

 

What harm does it cause?

Symptoms of disease are usually nonspecific, but include fever, lethargy, and anorexia, with more pronounced cases progressing to vomiting, yellow coloring of the gums and
eyes, and death. The bacteria can cause life-threatening kidney or liver disease, and can be transmitted from pets to humans.

 

Where is it?

Leptospirosis bacteria are found across the country. It used to be rare in the Northwest, but in 2004 an outbreak occurred on Vashon Island and spread to King County. Since
then, there has been an upsurge of cases diagnosed in Western Washington, from
Vashon and Bremerton Islands, to the Eastside. Cases continue to be diagnosed in the Redmond/Bellevue area, so the disease is established in wildlife. A Seattle emergency hospital had a cluster of cases in the fall of 2010, all in small dogs.

 

Who is at risk?
In general, dogs that spend more time outside exploring their environment (especially water) are at a higher risk of exposure.

 

Top risk factors for disease include the following:
1. Flooding
2. Un-neutered male dogs
3. German Shepherds
4. Herding dogs (regardless of male or female)
5. Male dogs of all breeds
6. Hounds and Working dogs

7. Mixed breed dogs
8. Dogs between 4-10 years old (M.P. Ward, et al. Prevalence of and
risk factors for leptospirosis among dogs in the United States and Canada: 677
cases (1970-1998). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
2002;220(1):53-58.)

 

Is it treatable?

While the disease is treatable, if it is not caught early enough, it can cause permanent
organ damage. Local emergency hospitals have reported deaths despite treatment.

Is it preventable? Currently there is a vaccine against four of the bacterial strains. Some cross-protection may exist for the other strains, but the vaccine may not protect against all strains. As with any vaccination, a vaccine-reaction may occur. Adult dogs less than 20lbs and dauschunds tend to react more often to the Leptospirosis vaccine. Because of the seriousness of the disease and possible side-effects of the vaccine, owners must decide whether they want to have their animal vaccinated against Leptospirosis.

 

To help protect your pets from contracting Leptospirosis, owners should prevent their pets from drinking or swimming in water where wildlife has access, such as long-standing puddles and ponds. Also avoid attracting wildlife to your yard.

 

For more information, discuss with your veterinarian, or please go to www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/zoonotics/~/media/health/publichealth

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