It may seem innocent enough to let your dog frolic in or drink from a pond when you are out on a hike together. But you should know some bacteria can lurk in water that could make you and your pet very sick. It is called Leptospirosis, often referred to as Lepto. These bacteria are found worldwide in soil and water and can spread between animals and from animals to people. According to the AVMA, in the United States, most cases of human leptospirosis result from recreational activities involving water. Infection resulting from contact with an infected pet is much less common but possible.
How do pets get Leptospirosis?
Lepto is most often transmitted to dogs and other animals through mucous membrane (mouth, nose, or eye) contact with the urine of infected animals or contaminated food, bedding, soil, or water. Infection occurs primarily in areas where there is stagnant water that wild animals frequent, such as a marsh, bog, or heavily irrigated pasture. The bacteria are more common in areas with warm climates and high annual rainfall, but it can occur anywhere. Use extra caution with your pet in these areas or avoid them altogether.
Pets can also be infected from the bite of or by eating an infected animal. Raccoons, skunks, possums, rats, cows, and pigs are all known carriers of the infection. Dogs can also become infected from close contact with another infected dog.
Thankfully, cats are generally quite resilient against the disease. However, there have still been some recorded instances of it in felines.
Symptoms of Leptospirosis
The signs of Lepto in pets vary. Some infected pets do not show any signs of illness, while some have a mild and short-term disease, and others develop severe illness and death.
Symptoms of Lepto include:
- Muscle tenderness
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the “whites” of their eyes or the inside of their ears, gums, or belly skin)
Lepto usually affects younger animals more severely than older ones.
Leptospirosis Treatment and Prevention
We treat Lepto with antibiotics and supportive care. With early and aggressive treatment, the chances for recovery are good, but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage.
Reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of Leptospira bacteria can reduce its chances of infection. Our hospital offers vaccination for at-risk dogs. The vaccination does not always prevent infection, but it tends to make the disease much milder if infection occurs.
Although the chances of a dog or pet with Lepto infecting a human are low, there is still some risk. If your dog has been diagnosed with Lepto, here are precautions to take:
- Administer antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Avoid contact with your dog’s urine.
- If your dog urinates in your home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant and wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the urine.
- Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or places where people or other animals will have access.
- Wash your hands after handling your pet.
Leptospirosis can be a severe disease, but your pup can stay in excellent health with proper prevention and treatment! We provide you and your pet with top-notch veterinary care and educational information. Please let us know if you have any questions.
Dr. Ashley Tuma
Pine Creek Animal Hospital