Leptospirosis, Your Pet and the Great Outdoors

Leptospirosis, Your Pet and the Great Outdoors 

The beautiful weather on the Monterey Peninsula lends itself to a wide array of outdoor activities such as heading to the beach, hiking one of the many coastal trails, or even setting up camp under the redwoods. Oftentimes, we enhance the experience by bringing our canine friends along.  Just as there are hazards to yourself in the outdoors that you prepare for, there are risks posed to your dog. One such risk that you may have heard of when getting your dog’s annual vaccines is leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a disease that results from an infection caused by Leptospira bacteria. This is a group of bacteria that can be found in soil or water that has been contaminated by urine from infected local wildlife such as rats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and even some marine animals such as sea lions. Leptospira bacteria can also be found in livestock such as cattle or pigs. It is important to note that leptospirosis is what is known as a zoonotic disease; meaning a disease that can be spread between animals and humans. As a result, both you and your dog could become infected. Although it is more likely that you get infected from contact with an environmental source—such as drinking contaminated water—rather than from an infected canine. Dogs can become infected by drinking contaminated water, being bit by a wild animal, or eating from an infected carcass. In humans, leptospirosis can have a wide variety of symptoms such as high fever, headache, muscle aches, yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice), abdominal pain, vomiting, and even a rash. As always, if you experience any combination of these symptoms please consult with your physician.

In our canine friends, leptospirosis can range from no signs at all to severe illness with fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, not wanting to eat, not wanting to move around, drinking more water and urinating more often than normal, yellowing of the skin and/or gums, diarrhea, or in some cases, uncontrollable bleeding. Since many of these signs are associated with other diseases, it is important to have your dog seen by your family veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. Once at the veterinarian’s office, the doctor will want to run various diagnostics such as blood and urine tests, x-rays (radiographs), or even an examination with an ultrasound machine may be offered. If it is confirmed that your dog has leptospirosis, early and aggressive treatment is often successful and will consist of antibiotics and supportive care that will likely include a stay in the hospital. In order to prevent transmission of leptospirosis from dog to human, it is important to avoid contact with the infected dog’s urine by using gloves, clean contaminated areas with household disinfectants, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling your dog.

The best way to protect your outdoor-loving canine friend is by helping prevent a leptospirosis infection with an annual leptospirosis vaccine administered by your family veterinarian at your pet’s annual wellness exam. If you haven’t already, consider making an appointment with your veterinarian today to discuss your dog’s risk of exposure and if getting an annual leptospirosis vaccine is right for your dog. Then you can feel safer about enjoying the great outdoors with your best friend!