Thursday, May 20, 2010

Question: Leptospirosis?

Dr. Schaeberle,

My dog, Max is vaccinated for for leptospirosis. What is it?


Hi Ed,

Leptospirosis is an illness caused by a group of bacteria in the genus Leptospira. These bacteria are typically shed in the urine of animals like raccoons, skunks, and others. Leptospirosis is zoonotic meaning both animals and people can become infected with the bacteria.

Dogs are frequently affected when they come into contact with an infected water supply like a pond or stream or even a puddle. Bacteria enter the body by ingestion or by entering a wound. Dogs used for hunting, who live on farms or in other rural areas or dogs who are not vaccinated are at higher risk. People are infected in the same manner but may also be infected if their dog has leptospirosis and the person comes in contact with the dog’s urine or saliva.

Symptoms in dogs include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, lethargy and sometimes increased thirst and urination. People generally experience flu-like symptoms. The bacteria typically target the liver and kidneys. In severe cases, liver or kidney failure may occur. Leptospirosis causes serious illness and can even be fatal. If caught early, the disease may be treated with antibiotics, though even with treatment, permanent damage to the liver or kidneys may occur.

Leptospirosis can be prevented by vaccination against the disease. Not allowing dogs to drink from ponds or other standing water, particularly in wooded areas or on farms can also reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Most distemper vaccines contain leptospirosis. Dogs, such as hunting dogs, who are at higher risk may benefit from a leptospira booster every six months. Some patients do seem to have an allergic reaction to the leptospira vaccine so talk to your veterinarian about the risks and benefits of this vaccine to see if it fits your dog’s lifestyle.

Thomas Schaeberle, V.M.D.

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