Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. Leptospirosis (lepto for short) is spread through the urine of infected animals. The bacteria can survive for months in water or soil. Both wild and domesticated animals can carry lepto. Raccoons and skunks that go into neighborhoods can bring the bacteria literally to your doorstep. People working or playing outdoors may be at increased risk for exposure. The bacteria can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth, and any break in the skin.
Lepto can cause a range of symptoms or infected individuals may have no symptoms at all. Left untreated, lepto can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death. Signs of lepto in dogs can include fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the skin. Diagnosis of lepto may involve blood tests, urine tests, and radiographs. Treatment with antibiotics and supportive care may be initiated while waiting on test results especially if there is suspected exposure. Permanent kidney or liver damage may occur even with treatment.
Fortunately there is a vaccine available for dogs to help prevent the disease. The vaccine is recommended annually for dogs that may be exposed to contaminated water or soil. If your dog frequents lakes, ponds, or wooded areas, there is a potential for exposure. For those of us living in warmer climates (like Central Florida), the lepto bacteria has plenty of places and opportunity to grow and become a hazard to pets and people.
As with any vaccine, there is a chance for vaccine reaction to occur. Some reports show that toy breeds may be more susceptible to anaphylactic reactions to the leptospirosis vaccine. Due to this potential risk, many veterinarians only vaccinate toy breeds for lepto if the dog is at high risk for exposure or if the dog has been previously vaccinated with no reactions.
If your dog is ill and is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, seek out veterinary care quickly. Treatment works best when started as soon as possible. If you think your dog should be vaccinated for lepto, speak with your veterinarian to discuss your concerns. Plan to describe your pet’s lifestyle (leash walk on sidewalk only or hiking through the woods every weekend) and where you live (condo in the middle of the city or house near a lake or forest) to help your veterinarian determine your pet’s exposure risk.