With all the recent rain in the area it is time to talk about leptospirosis (lepto). If you own a dog in Humboldt County, hopefully you have at least heard of lepto from your veterinarian. Leptospira organisms are spiral-shaped bacteria called spirochetes that are usually transmitted to dogs (and humans) through contact with urine-contaminated water, soil or food. Transmission can also occur with direct contact with wildlife — especially rats, raccoons and deer. Cats seem to be less susceptible to lepto infection and clinical disease is uncommon. While there are 10 types or serovars that are known to cause disease in our pets (of the 250 known serovars) we only have vaccines available to protect against four serovars in dogs. These vaccines are recommended in our area due to the high incidence of wildlife exposure and standing water in our environment. There is currently no vaccine available for cats.
Lepto infections can cause fever, depression, loss of appetite, nausea, increased thirst and bleeding caused because of low platelet counts. When an animal is infected the organism spreads quickly through the system. The serovar, age and immunity of the dog determine which organs are most affected. Once the bacteria settle in the kidneys and begin to reproduce, they can cause kidney failure, liver impairment and even death.
The diagnosis of leptopirosis in dogs can be very tricky because the clinical signs are that of many other infectious diseases we find in our area and because the organism is hard to detect. Most veterinarians will begin treating for lepto if there is suspicion due to clinical signs and potential exposure while more extensive testing is completed. The treatment for lepto typically involves hospitalization for IV fluids and antibiotics. Handling the urine of infected animals is thought to be the cause of one third of human infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
There are things you can do to prevent lepto infection in your dog. Annual vaccination will reduce the severity of disease. Controlling rodent populations and removing standing water from the yard can reduce transmission rates. Contact your local veterinarian to discuss specific vaccination protocols for your dog.
Dr. Tami Reynolds is secretary of the Humboldt Del Norte Veterinary Medical Association.