What is it?
Leptospirosis (Lepto) is a bacterial disease. It is a spirochete, a type of bacteria loosely related to the causative agent of Lyme disease. Dogs, horses, and people can contract the disease from these bacteria.
Is it common?
Lepto has varying prevalence throughout the United States. It has been seen in the Bay Area in very small frequency for many years, but the number of clinical cases seen in the San Jose area has been increasing in recent years. The rains of 2017 have made it even more prevalent.
How does my dog get this disease?
People and animals get infected by having skin wounds come in contact with or by drinking water contaminated with the bacteria – which is spread in the urine of other animals (mice, rats, dogs, raccoons, possums, and cows). Commonly our pet dogs will drink bad water from a stream, puddle, or even water fountain. Lepto has also been found in the coastal seal and sea lion populations.
What happens to my dog if it catches this infection?
Dogs infected with Lepto will show anything from lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, and increased thirst and urination, to jaundice, joint pain, and bleeding problems. It infects and damages mainly the liver and the kidneys of dogs, but also circulates the body in the blood.
Is Lepto treatable?
If caught early – via general blood and urine testing, followed by special testing for Lepto – it is treatable with common antibiotics. If not treated, Leptospirosis is often fatal or can lead to permanent organ damage.
Is there a vaccine?
Yes. There are multiple (9 total) different species types of the bacteria (called “serovars”) and there is currently a vaccine for 4 of the 5 different serovars that are known to cause disease in dogs. Dogs that have never had the vaccine will need to get 2 doses, 3-4 weeks apart, and then it is boosted yearly.
Should my dog be vaccinated, and why hasn’t Arroyo Animal Clinic been using this vaccine already?
Every vaccine recommendation we make is tailored to a pet’s specific lifestyle, habits, and risk of exposure, weighted against the risks of vaccination.
The Lepto vaccine is frequently cited as the most common vaccine to cause reactions (pain, vomiting, anaphylactic shock, etc). The risk of a reaction to vaccines in dogs increases with the number of vaccines given at one time – meaning dogs may need to return to the clinic later to finish getting all vaccines that are recommended. The newer, “cleaner” vaccine that we have decided to carry shows much lower rates of reaction.
Until recently, the prevalence of Lepto was generally low in our area – this has changed as well.
Finally, the vaccine is not fully protected against this disease – it makes the possible infection less dangerous, but only for 4 of the 5 serovars that infect dogs.
With the recent increasing prevalence in our area and with newer vaccines that claim less risk of reaction, we are beginning to recommend vaccination against Leptospirosis. If your dog goes camping, hiking, to the beach, or if your dog drinks water outside (puddles, streams, ponds, or even urban water fountains), or spends time in areas frequented by wild animals (including your backyard!) then vaccination should be considered.
Where can I get more information?
Check out these articles from www.veterinarypartner.com:
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