leptospirosisAlthough it may still be a little known illness among many pet owners, canine leptospirosis is on the rise across the United States. Naturally, pet owners are concerned about how they can protect their companions from this dangerous parasitic illness.

The good news is that there is a vaccine and some preventive measures you can take to keep canine leptospirosis at bay.

What is Canine Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis, or ‘lepto’ as it is often called, is caused by the bacteria Leptospira. There are over 200 strains, yet only 7 have the ability to cause infection in dogs.

Leptospirosis is typically spread through urine, contaminated water, food, and soil. Areas where wild species (e.g., rodents, skunks, and raccoons) are plentiful are also often rife with Leptospira. That’s why dogs who spend time in natural areas should be discouraged from drinking from puddles, ponds, or other standing water.

Leptospirosis outbreaks also occur in places where many pets are present, such as dog parks. Here, the illness can spread through urine, infected soil, and communal water bowls.

Because leptospirosis thrives in regions with warmer climates and greater rainfall averages, many pet owners assume it isn’t an issue for arid or cold regions. However, in February, there was an outbreak of canine lepto in Phoenix, Arizona, so the bacteria can be found anywhere there are high concentrations of wildlife (especially rodents) and dogs.

What to Look For

Symptoms of leptospirosis include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst
  • Muscle weakness, tenderness
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Appetite loss

In some cases, the signs of lepto are not obvious until the illness has progressed. Untreated, it can lead to kidney or liver failure.

It’s also important to note that leptospirosis is a zoonotic illness, which means it can be transferred from animals to people. Cats can also contract lepto, but that’s a rare occurrence. If your pet is experiencing any symptoms, it’s important to have him or her tested for leptospirosis, since it can be passed to other family members and pets.

Prevention Measures

One of the best measures you can take, especially if your dog is considered at greater risk, is to have him or her vaccinated. The vaccine requires one initial shot followed by a booster three weeks later. The vaccine presents no greater side effects than those of other common illnesses.

Additionally, take the follow precautions when outside with your dog:

  • Avoid dog parks and other places where outbreaks of lepto have occurred.
  • If you take your dog to a park, bring your own water bowl and fresh water. Do not allow him or her to drink out of shared bowls, puddles, or other standing water sources.
  • When hiking with your pet, discourage him or her from snarfling in soil or investigating puddles, drainages, and so forth.

For more information about canine leptospirosis, please do not hesitate to phone your friends at AIMSS.