Over the last month, several cases of leptospirosis, a potentially deadly bacterial disease, have been diagnosed in dogs in the Bay Area. Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection that is often spread through contaminated water. The organism is shed in the urine of small mammals and has in previous years been found along the peninsula and California coast. It is diagnosed more frequently after periods of rainfall.
“Because it is spread by animals, leptospirosis can happen anywhere,” said Dr. Megan Davis, an Emergency & Critical Care specialist at SAGE Redwood City. “You can find it in the city, where there are rats and raccoons, or you can find it out in the country.”
Initial signs of the infection are varied and can include muscle pain, lethargy, vomiting, increased drinking and urination, and decreased appetite. If left alone, the bacteria can spread quickly through the bloodstream and cause damage to the organs.
“The different sub-types [of leptospirosis] often present differently,” said Dr. Davis. “If the patient has kidney failure, we’ll treat with fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medications. Other types can manifest as liver failure or a bleeding disorder, but these are less common. We treat each case as an individual.”
Blood and urine tests can determine if leptospirosis is the cause of a pet’s illness. When caught early, leptospirosis is generally responsive to antibiotics. Many patients survive with treatment.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that it is possible for it to be transmitted to humans from animals, typically through contact with the skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). It’s important to note that normal activities with your pet do not put you at high risk for infection. High risk contact includes the handling of your pet’s urine, blood, or tissue. If you have reason to believe your pet might be affected, take care to protect yourself with gloves or boots when handling any blood or urine.
There is a vaccine available to help prevent leptospirosis. Like the flu vaccine, the vaccine doesn’t provide 100 percent protection against leptospirosis because so many different strains exist. Your primary veterinarian will be able to advise you on whether this vaccine is available and recommended for your pet.