Leptospirosis can be a serious bacterial disease that affects many kinds of animals including dogs and occasionally cats. It is usually spread through the urine of an infected animal such as rats, skunks, raccoons, and other wildlife.
You're probably thinking, "Phew! Here's one disease I don't need to stress about for my pet!" After all, how is Fido or Fifi going to come into contact with wildlife pee?
Alas, our pets are more connected in the circle of life than we realize.
Contracting Leptospirosis is easier than we'd like to think. That pesky skunk might be more than stinky. He might be a carrier for Lepto that resides in his kidneys. Because Mr. Skunk lives in a rainy climate, those showers could be washing his wet leavings into your pup's favorite watering hole. If your dog drinks from the puddle, he could get sick. The bacteria travel quickly through the blood stream and affect many organs. The infection eventually settles in your dog's kidneys, which will start the transmission cycle over again when your dog urinates.
Unfortunately, Lepto is a zoonotic disease, which means we humans can get sick too. it. Imagining little germ critters with fins (flagella) swimming their way through your veins and attacking your kidneys is not a pleasant thought. It's no less pleasant imagining it happening to your precious pup or cute kitty.
Some pets never show any signs of illness and develop a natural immunity or become carriers. Others may suffer from a lack of energy and seem depressed.
Because the Lepto bacteria swim, they need watery environments to thrive. Areas of the country that get lots of rain or swampy areas have higher rates of leptospirosis. Areas with milder winters also have higher rates of transmission since the bacteria don't thrive in freezing temperatures. Because of this, temperate regions don't usually see the disease manifest until late summer.
(I'm starting to rethink that dream to move to someplace tropical.)
Working dogs that search in boggy areas are more likely to be exposed as even sniffing the moist areas can infect dogs.
To minimize exposure risks, don't have feeding stations for raccoons or other wildlife near your home.
Consider keeping your cat indoors. There are lots of good reasons to do this anyway, and avoiding this disease just might push you into the indoor-only cat camp.
If you reside in a warm, damp climate, discuss with your vet the possibility of getting a preventative vaccine. Not all pets exposed to the bacteria will become sick, but puppies and elderly dogs could be the most vulnerable. There are risks associated with the vaccine as well so discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian. The vaccine should not be administered with other shots in case there is an adverse reaction and it is helpful to know which agent is causing a reaction. Additionally, when the Lepto vaccine is given with other shots, the various agents become less effective.
As discussed, this pesky disease can be contracted by humans. Your vet will have tips for preventing the spread of the disease which will probably include having your pet defecate in a rocky area that can be sprayed down with a bleach solution afterwards. Keep other pets away from this area. Use gloves when cleaning up after your pet. Even after your pet has recovered, strict hygiene is required as the bacteria can still be excreted for months.
Fortunately, the varius strains of the leptospirosis bacteria can be treated with common antibiotics for both humans and pets. Obviously, earlier treatment is better and is especially important in puppies who can die before showing many symptoms.
How likely would you be to have your pet vaccinated against Lepto?
Photo courtesy of Mark Hillary.