Q: Our dog Bear is sick with leptospirosis, but the veterinarian is optimistic he will pull through. She said there are many strains of lepto, and when he’s better, she recommends vaccination to protect him from getting the disease again. Please educate me about leptospirosis.
A: Spiral-shaped Leptospira bacteria cause leptospirosis, or lepto, in over 150 species of mammals, including humans and canines. Lepto occurs in all 50 states, and its incidence, which is increasing, is highest from July through November, particularly after heavy rains or flooding.
Carriers, including raccoons, skunks, small rodents and livestock, don’t get sick but do excrete the bacteria in their urine. The bacteria flourish in moist, warm soil and stagnant water. Dogs are infected when bacteria enter through the skin, mouth, nose or eyes.
Lepto is characterized by kidney and/or liver dysfunction. Mildly affected dogs experience decreased appetite, vomiting, weakness, fever, jaundice, and excessive drinking and urination. Severely affected dogs develop multi-organ disease with lung problems, bleeding, muscle pain and neurologic abnormalities.
With antibiotics, most dogs recover, although some never regain normal kidney function. The prognosis depends on how quickly the disease is diagnosed and treated. Avoid contact with Bear’s urine, and talk with your veterinarian about additional measures to protect the humans and any other dogs in your family.
To prevent lepto in the future, keep Bear away from puddles, slow-moving water and areas with extensive rodent populations. The leptospirosis vaccine protects dogs from four of the most prevalent strains and lasts for 12 months, so you’ll need to have Bear vaccinated every year.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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