Leptospirosis (lepto) is a “serious bacterial disease” that affects many animal species, including dogs and humans.
Wildlife, such as raccoons and skunks, carry the disease, which can then be passed on directly (or indirectly) to dogs. This is why it is more of a concern for rural communities or dogs that spend a lot of time in wildlife areas.
Signs of Lepto
Unfortunately, some dogs may never show symptoms of being ill. Others, according to PetMD.com, can be lethargic and show signs of depression. They can also display any or all of these symptoms:
- Lack of interest in eating
- Spontaneous cough
- Jaundice (yellowish color in the mouth or gums)
- Changes in urination patterns or frequency
Thankfully, there is a vaccine that prevents against lepto.
So why is it being seen in the news? There have been outbreaks in both Florida and Colorado in the past six months. It could be due, in part, to the fact that the lepto vaccine is not one of the “core” vaccines at most veterinary practices because it tends to have a higher reaction rate than other vaccines and most vets do not want to give a “needless” vaccine if your dog is never going to be exposed to the disease.
Dr. Jeff Werber is an Emmy Award winning veterinarian and cares for the pets of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. He answered our questions regarding the recent lepto outbreaks.
One article says, “Some veterinary experts think the prevalence of Lepto is probably much higher than veterinarians realize because so few dogs are tested for infection and there is no official tracking of animal cases. Kidney failure in senior dogs, for instance, potentially caused by Lepto, is usually dismissed as old age.”
Do you think that is a true statement?
DJ: Know that it is asymptomatic. But dogs can be tested to see if they have it. The key is that people know that it is a risk.
There have been a few cases in the news lately, but how common is it?
DJ: After reading the Denver story, I asked 2 of my colleagues, have you heard of any cases in Los Angeles? And they said no. I am not going to change my practice. Now if I were practicing in Denver (where the outbreak occurred), and a dog came into my office that occasionally goes hiking, would I test the dog? Absolutely. Many veterinarians have defined core vaccines that protect against diseases that are prevalent in any particular area. For city dogs, Lepto is not one of them. So we eliminated it as a core vaccine, and we consider it a lifestyle vaccine. However, it’s not something that should be ignored, because it could happen. And these incidents remind people to start the conversation with their veterinarian.
How easy it for a human to contract the disease?
DJ: The disease is transmitted through urine. So in order to contract the disease, it would be because you are cleaning up after your dog after they have urinated. Say you didn’t clean your hands very well, and then your hands come in contact with your mouth, like if you ate a piece of pizza. It’s not probable, but can it happen? Yes it can.
What dogs are most at risk?
DJ: Lepto is solely an environmental and lifestyle risk. If you live at the base of foothills, even if you don’t go outside, you can still get in contact with Lepto through rainwater runoffs. If you hear there is Lepto in the area or if you are in a place where there is any potential, work with your veterinarian to evaluate the risks.
Now know that there are different types of vaccines for Lepto. The typical vaccine is DA2PL (Distemper Adenovirus Type 2, Parainfluenza parvo and Leptospirosis) which really only contains one strain of Lepto. I recommend using a version that has 4 strains of Lepto. If you are going to vaccinate your dog, then go ahead and vaccinate it for all types. You don’t know what type of strain is going to be out there.
Aside from the vaccine, are their other precautions owners can take to protect their dog while outside?
DJ: The recommendation is that any dog that frequents a place like mountains, wooded areas, then absolutely include the Lepto vaccine. If you live in an area where there is even a possibility, go ahead and vaccinate, even though it isn’t all that common. These outbreaks make the news, because it isn’t all that common. Do we want people panicking? Absolutely not.
The Bottom Line
All dog owners should be aware that lepto exists, and if you feel your dog’s lifestyle may put him at risk, than you should talk to your vet. After all, your vet won’t ever recommend the vaccine if he has no idea your dog spends his summers in the mountains camping.