It is that time of year when we see a lot of wild animals dead on the roads, the cold weather, mating season, busy drivers during the holidays, – who knows why, but it does make me think of Leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis is a spirochete disease (caused by a specific type of bacteria) transmitted in the urine of wildlife – mostly rodents, skunks, possums, and raccoons – that can infect warm blooded animals including dogs, cattle, horses, sheep, goat, pigs, and humans. It infects the kidneys and the liver and can make animals very ill, including Humans. Though infection is rare in the United States, it does occur.
Infection occurs – for all animals – by direct contact with infected urine or tissue or indirectly by contact with contaminated water, or soil.
Abraded skin and exposed mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) are the usual routes of entry. Think about your dog lapping up standing water in the back yard after a heavy rain. Leptospires can stay in the soil for up to 6 months!
Most dogs that are exposed to Leptospirosis develop an immune response, and never show symptoms, but some dogs do become infected and it is a life threatening infection, causing kidney failure, liver failure, septicemia, and possibly meningitis and bleeding disorders. All these problems can occur in humans that become infected as well so this is a serious disease! Luckily it can be treated with antibiotics, but the kidneys can be permanently damaged.
At Kleinbrook Animal Hospital, we practice risk based vaccination. This means we only vaccinate your pet for diseases that actually pose a risk. For years we have only vaccinated dogs that were exposed to wildlife – such as dogs that go hiking, camping, hunting, running on a ranch, the beach, or were regularly exposed to streams or ponds where wildlife are present. For many years I did not routinely administer Leptospirosis vaccine as we did not see leptospirosis in this area. Also, the earlier vaccines (20 years ago) were problematic for allergic reactions, again another reason not to vaccinate every dog for Lepto.
Recently (July 2018) this practice was part of a study in the Houston area looking for evidence of exposure to Leptospirosis in dogs. The study results indicated that 10% of unvaccinated dogs were positive for exposure to Leptospirosis! That meant that of the 50 dogs we tested, yes …… 5 dogs came back as positive for exposure to Leptospirosis. All but one had low titers which were consistent with exposure only, not infection but if they could be exposed, they could become infected!
The newer vaccines are much less allergenic, and consequently, we are now offering Leptospirosis vaccination to all healthy adult dogs that do not have allergic reactions to the Lepto vaccine. It is a two injection regimen given 3-4 weeks apart, and can be given with the yearly vaccines in a combined Distemper/Hepatitis/Parainfluenza/Parvo/Lepto vaccine.
If your dog is exposed to wildlife at all, or you have seen rodents/possum/skunk/raccoons in your back yard, I strongly recommend that you vaccinate your pet. If you take your dog to the dog park, any park really, hiking, swimming in lakes or ponds, running on a ranch, traveling, camping, or if they just like to drink standing water after a rain, get them vaccinated!
If you have any questions we are always here to help, and Happy Holidays!