Leptospirosis in Dogs

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While this disease may sound exotic, sadly it’s found throughout the world including in our very own backyards in North America. Because the leptospira organism cannot survive in freezing temperatures, it typically occurs during the Spring and Summer months and often in rural areas where infected animals roam more freely.  And while it can be seriously debilitating for your dog, the good news is that it can not only be prevented but in the case of dogs already infected, antibiotics are available that can effectively treat the disease and restore your pet’s health if caught early.

What Exactly is a Leptospirosis?

It’s a bacterial infection caused by the leptospira organism. The organism is typically found in wet conditions including standing water, damp ground, or mud, and once picked up by your pet, it evolves into an infection that can result in loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, severe weakness, as well as muscle pain, and even kidney failure. Dogs start to exhibit signs between 4 to 12 days after exposure and your vet can diagnose it through blood tests that will red flag changes in your pet’s liver or kidney function. If left untreated, it can become life-threatening, ultimately impacting your dog’s brain, lungs, liver, and heart.

How Was My Dog Infected?

In North America, the organism is often found after a heavy rainfall where it can be transmitted to your pet if he drinks from puddles, swims in stagnant water, or even just walks across damp ground or mud. While the organism is typically spread through the bodily fluids on an infected animal (such as urine) it can also be picked up by your pet if he’s bitten by an infected animal or they simply share sleeping quarters while your dog is nursing an open sore or wound. And like many commonly transmitted diseases, it can be passed to newborn puppies via the placenta of their mother. What’s important to note, is that this organism is zoonotic, which means that it can be passed from animals to humans.

How Does It Impact My Dog’s Health?

Bacteria from the leptospira organism multiply in your pet’s bloodstream before migrating into his soft tissues – primarily his liver and kidneys. If left untreated, it can cause extensive damage to these organs and while your pet’s natural immune system can produce antibodies to help fight the infection, the damage can already be irreversible. That said, not all dogs infected with Leptospirosis will become seriously ill. In fact, research has shown that up to 25% of healthy dogs studied, actually had sufficient antibodies to shut it down. What this tells us, is that at some point in their lives, the dogs have already been exposed to the infection, without any noticeable symptoms of illness.

How Do I Prevent My Pet from Becoming Infected?

When looking at the most common causes of this disease, it makes sense for pet owners to eliminate obvious triggers such as allowing their pet to drink from stagnant water sources and discouraging known carriers (wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, rats, etc.) from being drawn to your property by preventing their easy access to garbage. But for those who live in vulnerable areas (warmer climates, rural locales), there is also an effective vaccine for Leptospirosis. Now, because it isn’t considered one of the core vaccines your pet requires each year, you’ll need to weigh out the risks and benefits


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