Leptospirosis: What Pet Owners Need to Know

leptospirosisLeptospirosis is something of a mystery to most pet owners, and yet, this bacterial disease is on the rise in many parts of the United States. Leptospirosis is a contagious illness that can affect pets and people. While cases among cats are rare, dogs are more likely to become infected.

With recent outbreaks in cities such as Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York, it’s important to raise awareness about this potentially deadly disease and how owners can protect their pets.

An Overview of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis among pets (often called canine leptospirosis) is caused by the family of organisms Leptospira interrogans. It’s primarily contracted through contact with the urine of an infected animal but can also be spread through a bite or contact with infected soil or water.

Leptospira thrive in areas with relatively warm, humid climates. A greater number of cases have been found all along the eastern seaboard, including New Jersey and New York, as well as Great Lakes states.

Symptoms of lepto in canines typically emerge 4-12 days after infection. Signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain

In more severe cases, symptoms can include jaundice, bleeding, difficulty breathing, and abdominal swelling. Leptospirosis is a serious disease in dogs and can often become a life-threatening emergency situation.

Because the disease can be passed on to other animals and people in the home, you should use extreme care to avoid contact with an infected pet’s urine and thoroughly clean all bedding, bowls, and places where the pet has spent time. Be sure to isolate an ill pet from other pets in the home. Owners will also need to protect themselves by wearing gloves when interacting with a sick pet or when handling bedding, bowls, etc.

Once diagnosed, treatment of lepto involves antibiotics and supportive care (including monitoring kidney and liver function).

How to Prevent Lepto

Some dogs are in a high risk category, particularly those who spend a lot of time outdoors. The team at Berks Animal Emergency & Referral Center can help you determine if your pet is in this category (if so, vaccination is recommended).

The leptospirosis vaccine is available to dogs over the age of 12 weeks and is effective for 6-8 months.

Other steps you can take to prevent this disease include:

  • Do not let your dog drink from standing water sources, such as puddles, drainage ditches, or ponds.
  • When visiting a dog park, bring a separate bowl and water for your dog. Avoid communal water bowls.
  • Stay informed about the illness and where outbreaks have occurred. Avoid going to places where there’s a lot of other dogs or wildlife.
  • Maintain your pet’s annual wellness appointments so we can ensure he or she is on all the necessary forms of prevention.

For more information about leptospirosis in pets, please give us a call. With some proactive measures, we can keep this illness from spreading to our precious four-legged friends.