Leptospirosis…  A Danger To Our Dogs and Us

If you’re a dog owner in Arizona, you’ve been hearing some pretty scary stuff on the news lately. Leptospirosis is all over the headlines here.   Over 50 cases in dogs have been reported in the last year.

It hasn’t been a problem here in the past.  In fact, it’s rare in Arizona and when it occurs, the cases are sporadic.  Not this time.

The outbreak in Arizona started in February of 2016 with two clusters; one involving show dogs and one involving a boarding facility.

As a dog owner in Arizona, I’m concerned.  I haven’t heard much about Leptospirosis and knew little about it.  So I thought I’d do some research.

Leptospirosis — lepto for sake of ease — is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria.  This bacterium is called Leptospira.

There are hundreds of strains, or serovars, of Leptospira. It’s found all over the world.  But the three serovars most often seen in dogs are Canicola, Grippotyphosa, and Pomona.

It’s an illness that can be mild to serious in dogs.  And it’s zoonotic, meaning people can catch it from their pets.

Lepto is found in areas with high annual rainfall.  It needs a wet environment to survive and is more common in summer and fall because the organism won’t survive a frost.

Arizona is a desert… not a place you’d call rainy.  Definitely not tropical.  And not a state with a lot of marshes—wet muddy areas these bacteria love.

So why the sudden outbreak?  It’s been wetter than usual in Arizona.  We’ve had stretches of cool weather during long rainy periods, allowing water to stay around.

And lepto lives in standing water contaminated with infected urine from an animal with the illness.

It also survives in soil and mud.

Transmission

Infected animals spread the disease to other animals and humans through bodily fluids such as urine.

Dogs can become infected with lepto if mucous membranes or skin with an open wound come in contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water, food or bedding.

If your dog likes to swim or wade in water, other than a chlorinated pool, you may court trouble.  Contaminated water is most often where a dog will get it.

But any standing water after a heavy rain, or even a puddle of urine at the dog park, can be a conduit for the bacteria.

If you live on a farm, irrigated pastures can be sources of infection too.  And Leptospirosis can live in contaminated environments for months.

If you are a breeder, you should know mothers can pass this disease to their puppies through the placenta.  And sometimes lepto can pass from one dog to another during breeding.  Talk to your vet before breeding your dog if you think they’re at risk of being infected.

Dogs that are most at risk are:

Dogs that hike

Dogs that swim in natural water

Dogs that come in contact with farm animals

Dogs that live on the fringes of wild land where wild animals live

Dogs that hunt

Dogs that live in areas with standing water or flood zones

Dogs that spend time at dog parks, dog shows, doggie daycare

Dogs that spend time in boarding facilities

Dogs that travel often or are with dogs that travel

 

This illness is preventable if you take precautions.

Don’t let your dog swim in natural water… drink potentially contaminated water… or have contact with wildlife (especially rodents).  And don’t expose them to urine from another animal.

Make sure any boarding facility you bring your dog to is clean and free of rodents.  Be on the lookout for droppings.

In addition, talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog.  The vaccine requires two injections, 3 to 4 weeks apart, and it lasts a year.  If your dog participates in any high-risk activities, your vet will likely suggest the vaccine.

Because you can get sick from your dog with Leptospirosis, vaccinating your dog may be a good idea if you or someone in your household has a compromised immune system, or if you have young children.

Also remember to wash your hands after walking your dog.  Avoid areas where pets urinate and wash any clothing that may have come in contact with animal urine.

Symptoms

Depending on the health of your dog, their symptoms can be nonexistent to serious…   sometimes even resulting in death.

If you’re worried your dog was exposed, look out for:

Lethargy

Lack of appetite

Vomiting

Diarrhea

Muscle pain

Stiffness

Weakness

Trembling

Reluctance to move

Bleeding (nosebleeds, bruising)

Cough

Weight loss

Difficulty breathing

Fever

Runny nose

Jaundice

Red eyes

Bloody vaginal discharge

If lepto goes untreated and your dog’s body cannot fight it off on its own, it can affect the liver and kidneys.  Sometimes, causing permanent damage and even death.

There are signs when the liver and kidneys are affected.  Frequent or decreased urination, excessive drinking, or yellow eyes or skin mean it’s time to see the vet because there’s damage to these organs.

Your vet will take blood and urine from your dog.  And they’ll run a titer test to see how your dog’s immune system is responding to the illness.  This also helps the vet figure out your dog’s level of infection.

Treatment and Management

If your dog has a severe case of Leptospirosis, they’ll likely need to be hospitalized.  There they can receive fluid therapy for dehydration and anti-vomiting drugs.

If they’re not eating, the vet can deliver nutrition through a gastric tube.  And a blood transfusion may be needed if there’s severe hemorrhaging.

Your dog will be on antibiotics for at least four weeks.  But lepto is a treatable disease if caught before your dog suffers major organ damage.

While your dog is being treated, you must keep them isolated from children and other pets.

Wear gloves while handling your dog and any of their waste.  And disinfect any areas where your dog has vomited, urinated, or left any other bodily fluids with a bleach solution.

Leptospires may be shed in your dog’s urine for weeks after treatment, even if your pet seems to be completely recovered.  Continue to take precautions to avoid contaminated body fluids.

If you own cats, talk to your vet.  This is an illness that’s rare in cats.  If they get it, the symptoms are mild.  But because they don’t get it often, we don’t have a lot of information about the disease in cats.

If you live in Arizona, prevention is the best course of action.  Avoid standing water, wet soil, and urine from other animals.  Dog parks are not the best place to exercise your dog until the outbreak is over.  And talk to your vet about the vaccine.

How are you protecting your dog from Leptospirosis?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

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Is Your Dog A Speed Eater?

I can speak to this subject with a lot of experience!  We rescued our 8-year-old Lab when she was 2.  She came to us with a host of emotional and behavioral problems.  One problem was the voracity with which she consumed her food.

Yes, she is a Lab.  And we know all Labs love their food.

But this wasn’t a normal Lab’s love of food.  All fingers and hands needed to be quickly out of the vicinity of the bowl when it hit the ground.

Almost instantly, it became clear this was no laughing matter.  Most meals came back up shortly after she ate.  She’s our third Lab.  And although all three of our Labs loved their food, never had any of them eaten so fast they threw it all up.

After speaking with our vet, we realized we had to make some changes.

Timing how quickly your dog can empty the bowl may seem like a fun game but speed eating can cause health problems.  These can be serious, especially in a big dog like a Lab.

What causes a dog to eat too fast?

If we’re not talking about a sudden increase in appetite and the sudden onset of speed eating, dogs eat fast because of:

A learned behavior from puppyhood – Puppies often compete with their littermates to get enough food.  That may even be the case when they’re nursing.

The fear of competition from another pet in the house – If you have another pet, your dog may fear they’ll steal their food before they finish it.

Poor nutrition – Low quality food may not be providing enough nutrients, leaving your dog feeling hungry even after they’ve just eaten.

A parasite – Parasites can affect your dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from their food, again leaving them feeling hungry.

If your dog typically eats at a normal speed but suddenly they eat very fast or are always hungry, this can be a health issue—a hormone production or thyroid problem.  See your vet at once.

When my greyhound had thyroid cancer, he couldn’t get enough food.  A dog that wasn’t interested in food was suddenly stealing my kids’ sandwiches off the kitchen counter… in plain sight.  That’s a warning sign.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  I’m talking about a dog that eats too fast from the day you bring him home.

Why is eating fast problematic?

Interestingly, a dog’s mouth isn’t even considered a part of their digestive system because unlike in people, no part of the digestion process happens there.

Food is out of the mouth and into the body in seconds.  Dogs have pointed teeth for tearing big pieces of food at a time and getting the food down fast.

In humans, digestion does start in the mouth.  Our flat teeth and saliva break the food down before it even leaves the mouth.

But if your dog is gulping mouthfuls of food, that’s not what nature intended and they can choke. Although dogs don’t chew their food the way people do, they still need to swallow their food in manageable amounts.

Gulping also causes gas.  If your dog is gulping their food, they’re taking in a lot of air, making them gassy.

And all that air is the dangerous part.  A big dog that takes in a lot of air when they eat is at risk for bloat.  The stomach fills up with air and twists on itself.  This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate emergency care.

And as in my Lab, speed eating can cause vomiting and other digestive problems. If you free-feed your dog, speed eating can also lead to canine obesity.  As soon as the bowl is empty, you’re filling it up again.  And your dog ends up getting too much food each day.

Remember too, that if your dog is eating at a breakneck pace because they’re afraid someone will take their food from them, they may show aggression when someone does.  And this can become a dangerous behavioral problem if not stopped.

How can you slow down your chowhound?

First, rule out a parasite by taking your dog to the vet.  In addition, feed the highest quality most nutritious food you can.  A super premium food like Husse is well-balanced to provide a nutrient-dense satisfying meal.

Once you’re certain your dog’s problem isn’t a parasite or poor nutrition, you can take simple steps to fix it.  And solutions abound!  Some may work and some won’t.

You might need to try a few things before you hit on the one or two that help your dog.  Every dog’s different.

Increase the number of meals you feed.  We feed our Lab three meals a day.  Eating less is easier on the digestion, even if your pup consumes that smaller amount faster than normal.

Try a bowl with obstructions.  They sell slow feeder bowls with plastic prongs that stick up or compartments.  Your dog has to work around the prongs or sections to get the food.  This slows them down.  Or try putting a brick or large rock (one too big to swallow) in the middle of the bowl.  You can also put a smaller bowl upside down inside the big bowl and put the food in the channel between the two.  If a bowl like this has the opposite effect because your dog becomes panicked that they can’t get the food fast enough, don’t use it.

Feed meals from a food toy or food puzzle.  A Kong toy stuffed with food will not only slow your dog down, it will give them mental stimulation as they work to get the food out.

Feed multiple pets separately.  This will eliminate the fear of competition.  You can try feeding them on opposite sides of the room, or in different rooms.

Scatter the food on the floor so your dog has to graze.  Picking up one kibble at a time will slow them down.

Use a muffin tin, dividing the food between each hole.  At least your dog will pick their head up long enough to move from one hole to the next.

Make feeding time game time, which will not only slow down your dog but will also provide mental stimulation.  Hide food in various locations in your house and tell your dog to “find it”.  Start by putting the food in locations your dog can see and progress to accessible hiding places.

You’ll find the greatest success by combining a few of these approaches.  For our Lab, feeding her more frequent smaller meals and using a slow feeder bowl did the trick.  Now she’s not a speed eater, she’s just the typical Hoover Lab that consumes any food in her path like a vacuum.

Does your dog eat too fast?  How do you slow them down?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.