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Dog Playing with Deflated Soccer Ball

Does your dog sometimes drink out of puddles? Does she play at the dog park, pick things up off the dirt in her mouth? Is she protected against Leptospirosis? She should be. I've seen, treated, and shared in the heartbreak of cases of Leptospirosis caught too late.

What Is Leptospirosis?

Leptospira is a genus of bacteria which causes disease worldwide in many species of mammals including humans and our domestic dogs. Leptospires may enter the body through skin as well as the mucous membranes of the mouth. Exposure to these infecting bacteria occurs in contaminated water, soil, and bedding contaminated with the urine of rodents or other wild animals.

Symptoms of Disease

Leptospirosis, a disease caused by various subtypes (or serovars) of Leptospira, produces fever, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea sometimes with visible blood, increased breathing rate, and sometimes jaundice.

Lab work often reveals a high white blood cell count, kidney failure, and sometimes hepatitis. Young large breed male dogs are most commonly infected, but all dogs are susceptible. Dogs living in more densely populated areas are at higher risk than rural dogs statistically.

Lepto Is Preventable

Leptospirosis is a treatable disease especially when diagnosed in a timely manner. There is an 80-90% chance of survival with aggressive IV fluid therapy, antibiotics, and supportive care. Some, however, will be left with chronic kidney disease or chronic hepatitis.

Lepto is also a zoonotic* disease. Exposure to the urine of infected animals shedding the bacteria can cause human infection. However, most people who experience Leptospirosis are believed to have been infected in the same manner as their dog, from exposure to contaminated soil or water.

In the environment, Leptospires survive 180 days in wet neutral to mildly alkaline pH soil and longer in stagnant water such as ponds and puddles. It is most abundant in wet warm seasons or climates.

Vaccinate Your Pet!

There is a vaccine available for dogs which is highly successful at preventing the disease. It protects against 4 of the serovars (subtypes) which are most often implicated in cases of Lepto in our dogs. Vaccination against 1 serovar is not cross-protective against all subtypes, so continued vigilance with clinical research and occasional changing of the vaccine to reflect the most commonly implicated serovars is very important. Yearly boosters are required to maintain immunity.

Dr. Kelly Kasum is an associate veterinarian at East Towne Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Kelly has practiced general small animal medicine and surgery in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

*Zoonotic refers to a disease in animals that can also infect humans.