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What you need to know about Lepto

Dr Hansen answers a few questions about Leptospirosis for a recent interview that we wanted to share with our clients.

-How might local dogs contract the disease? Are certain dogs more at risk than others?
Leptospirosis is a bacterium which is shed in the urine of infected animals (including mice, rats, raccoons, skunks, and possums). Dogs are most commonly exposed either through direct contact with that urine or by ingesting contaminated water and soil.

-What are common Lepto symptoms pet owners should watch for?
Leptospirosis can result in kidney and/or liver damage, the most common symptoms of which include lethargy, poor/no appetite, a sudden increase in urine or thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, or a yellow color in the skin, eyes, ears, or mouth. It is important to note that these symptoms are not specific to Leptospirosis i.e. they can also be caused by other disease states. It is important that pet owners contact their veterinarian right away if they notice these or other symptoms or if they have concerns about their pet.

-What is the general course of treatment for canine Lepto patients?
Leptospirosis itself is treated with antibiotics, along with any supportive care that is needed to address its effects on the body (hospitalization for IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, and stomach/intestinal protectants).

-How would you describe the prognosis for Lepto?
With rapid diagnosis and treatment the prognosis is generally good (70-85% survival rate), but in severe cases of liver and/or kidney damage the outlook can be more guarded and unfortunately not all pets survive. In some situations there can also be a degree of permanent damage requiring ongoing management.

Do you recommend the Lepto vaccine? Approximately how much does it cost?
Vaccines are characterized as either core (recommended for all pets, regardless of individual circumstances) or non-core (may or may not be recommended depending on the individual pet’s risk factors). While Leptospirosis is officially a non-core vaccine, given its prevalence in our area we will frequently recommend it after conducting a risk-based assessment of an individual patient. Dogs that are at highest risk include those that spend a lot of time outdoors (especially going camping, having access to wildlife areas, and drinking out of lakes/streams). Primarily house-based dogs would be at lower risk but even these pets can become exposed to the urine of mice and raccoons passing through their backyard.

The vaccine is $35. The initial series consists of a single vaccine followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and then an annual vaccination. It is important to note a couple things about the vaccine:

  1. The protection conferred by this vaccine is not as long lasting as vaccines for other conditions. It is very important that at-risk patients receive the vaccine each year or as otherwise directed by their veterinarian.
  2. Even when properly vaccinated the pet is not completely protected from potential infection. Leptospirosis is unique in that there are many serovars (subtypes). The vaccine protects against 4 of the most common ones, however it does not protect against all of them. Therefore, the best trifecta of protection comes from:
    -Current vaccination
    -Avoidance of high risk sources (wild animal urine, stagnant water)
    -Careful monitoring and rapid communication with your veterinarian about any symptoms/concerns

-Is there anything else regarding Lepto that pet owners should keep in mind?
Leptospirosis is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals (wild or pets) to people. Normal hygiene (hand washing) is important when cleaning up after your pet in general, but is particularly true when caring for a pet that has been diagnosed with this condition.

Dr Tom Hansen, DVM

Slider photo by: Posh Pooch Portraits