Ocean County Veterinary Hospital veterinarians want to know… Do your dogs go outside? If they do they may be at risk for Leptospirosis. This disease is caused by one of the many strains of the Leptospira bacteria. Wild animals that walk through your yard, day or night, can leave the bacteria behind wherever they urinate. Remember, there is not a yard or park in New Jersey that does not have a squirrel or mouse run through it! Dogs most often become infected with Leptospirosis through contact with the bacteria that live and multiply in contaminated puddles or moist areas. Any dog that goes outside is at risk. Even when I walk my own dogs on a leash they sometimes reach down before I can stop them from investigating a puddle. We used to think that only dogs that swam in lakes or rivers, such as hunting dogs, were at risk. The fact is that many dogs diagnosed with Leptospirosis are medium to small dogs that are mostly indoors. People are at risk as well because Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which means it can spread from animals to people.
The signs of Leptospirosis infection in dogs may vary. Some dogs do not show any signs of illness but may continue to shed the bacteria in their urine. Some develop a transient illness but recover, while many others become very sick and can even die. The signs can be nonspecific such as: lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea and yellowing or bruising of the skin. There are different strains of the Leptospira bacteria and different strains target different organs. Kidney and liver failure may occur. The treatment will vary depending on the extent of the illness. Some dogs are treated with oral antibiotics alone, while others need to be hospitalized for intensive care.
If your veterinarian suspects Leptospirosis, diagnostics must be run to confirm infection. New tests, such as the Leptospirosis PCR for blood or urine, allow us to detect active infections in a shorter period of time (a few days). Chronic infections may require a blood antibody titer to be run initially and again 4 to 6 weeks later. Other tests may be recommended depending on severity of the disease and the condition of the patient.
The good news is that there is a vaccination that can help prevent Leptospirosis. We recommend it for all dogs living in New Jersey. Discuss your dog’s risk of exposure and the vaccination with your veterinarian. All of my dogs are vaccinated for Leptospirosis every year. Even though they are not outside often, I want them to be protected. Remember “Lepto” and remember there is a way to prevent this deadly disease.
Laurie Pearlman DVM