Mar 29 2013

Leptospirosis – Which dogs should worry?

Leptospirosis (Lep-toe-spire-o-sis), also called lepto for short is a serious infection involving the kidneys and the liver.  However, which dogs are at risk for being infected from this disease?
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Leptospirosis is a type of bacteria called a spirochete.  These bacteria have special adaptations that allow them to thrive in warm, moist environments (Atlanta, anyone?). Typically the source of this bacteria is a “carrier state” animal (usually a wild animal such as raccoons, possums, or rats).  These animal have this bacteria living in their kidneys but are not made sick from the infection.  Over time, some of the bacteria can leave their bodies through the urine and end up in standing or slow moving water including lakes, creeks, rain puddles or even bird baths.  Most commonly our pets are exposed to these bacteria through drinking, swimming or wading through the affected water.  Even drinking from a little puddle on a short walk or while playing in the backyard may be enough to catch the disease.
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Some dogs will not get sick from leptospirosis.  However, the ones that do tend to get very sick.  The bacteria produces toxins that attack the liver and the kidneys which can potentially be fatal.  Fortunately, there are good antibiotics to treat infections with this bacteria.  The bad part is that these infections tend to mimic many other diseases and can not always be diagnosed quickly enough to prevent permanent damage.
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The best prevention is avoidance of high risk areas – areas with a large amount of standing water.  However, since it can be anywhere, immunity from exposure cannot be guaranteed.  A leptospirosis vaccine is available that protects against several of the common strains.  As with most vaccines, it is not 100% effective and some patients can still get sick (although usually they have a much milder illness).
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One more important point about Leptospirosis:  We can get leptospirosis! It is one of the more common diseases around the world for humans to get from animals.  If that’s not a good enough reason to vaccinate when appropriate, I don’t know what is!
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Dr. Freihaut

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