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.
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.
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:
Lack of appetite
Reluctance to move
Bleeding (nosebleeds, bruising)
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.