Summer’s in full swing! We’re hanging out with our canine buddies on trails, by the lake, at dog parks and everywhere in between. Does your dog ever drink from puddles, maybe lick her paws after coming in from outdoors? Does she play in areas possibly inhabited by rats, squirrels, raccoons, skunks and coyotes? If so, she’s at risk for Leptospirosis.
Across the country and right here in Dallas, dogs are being diagnosed with a nasty little bacterial infection with a big name: Leptospirosis. Lepto, as it’s commonly known, can be found all over the world and can be passed to humans fairly easily. It attacks the kidneys and liver primarily, and can be fatal. And as with all illnesses, the earlier it’s diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.
Lepto is carried by animals like rodents, skunks and other wildlife and is passed to dogs and people via urine. Transmission occurs when the mucous membranes of a healthy animal or person comes into contact with the bacteria. For example, if your pup drinks from a puddle that has been tainted with the urine of an infected squirrel, he can become ill. Similarly, if your dog walks through wet grass that has been urinated on by a lepto-carrying rat, and then licks her paws, she can become infected. While you might think this is a stretch to believe, would you really risk kidney or liver failure on it?
Worse yet, Lepto is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted from an infected animal to a person. Sadly, they result in similar outcomes: kidney and liver damage, or failure and even death. Lepto is not widely considered as a differential diagnosis by both human and animal doctors, making it especially tough to diagnose and treat appropriately. This is primarily because it can show itself in very different ways, both pet to pet and human to human. But again, the earlier it’s caught, the better chance at recovery.
While some infected dogs never exhibit any symptoms of Lepto at all, others may show some or all of the classic symptoms. These include lethargy, change in urinary output, fever, reluctance to eat, vomiting, abdominal pain, redness in the eyes (without eye discharge), and blood work that shows changes in kidney and/or liver enzymes. Clearly, these symptoms can also stem from a ton of other causes, making a diagnosis of Lepto slower to come by. Some vets don’t even believe there’s cause to be alarmed as Lepto is rarely seen. But common sense also dictates that if you don’t test for a disease, you’ll never find it.
So what can be done to protect your pup? There are vaccines against Lepto available through your vet. Some even cover 4 different serovars, or strains, of Lepto (there are over 200 Lepto serovars that exist but these four are the most common in dogs). If your vet doesn’t vaccinate for Lepto routinely, ask for it. After all, you are your dog’s best advocate. In keeping him safe, you’re also keeping yourself safe. If your dog falls ill, with Lepto symptoms, ask your vet about testing for Lepto. A sample of blood is taken from your dog and sent to the lab; it’s that easy.
Of course, prevention is the key. Avoid letting your dog drink from puddles or other stagnant water, bathe your dog regularly and clean and change outside water bowls frequently. Be sure and wash your hands well after cleaning up your dog’s urine. Truly, the best defense against Leptospirosis is awareness. Be sure and ask your vet about Lepto at your dog’s next vet visit; the risk is too high to keep quiet.