Leptospirosis: A Growing Threat for Your Dog and You

Summertime for dogs can mean running through puddles after a steamy thunderstorm, jumping into ponds to cool off and taking in all the scents and tastes of the season.

If your dog enjoys any of these activities—or even hanging in the backyard–you may want to consider adding a vaccine to your canine’s annual regimen: one that can prevent Rover—and even you—from contracting a potentially lethal bacterial infection called Leptospirosis.

Also known as Mud Fever or Swamp Fever, leptospirosis (commonly called “lepto”) is one of the few conditions that is zoonotic, meaning it can be spread from animals to humans. While not common, the New Jersey Department of Health has noted three cases of the infection in humans in early 2017, according to CBS News, New York, one of which killed a North Jersey man.

Although traditionally associated with warmer climates with significant annual rainfall, lepto seems to be on the rise in the region.

Lepto usually is associated with rats and other outdoor rodents such as squirrels. It is contracted via the dog’s mucous membranes, through a skin wound or through contact with infected urine, soil contaminated by infected urine, water sources ranging from puddles to lakes and streams (often near wildlife or farm animal areas) or bedding, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. A dog bitten by an infected animal or who has picked up an infected carcass or tissue is at risk of picking up leptospirosis too.

If untreated, lepto can cause permanent kidney or liver damage.

While signs and symptoms may vary, depending on the severity of the infection and the dog himself, watch for:

  • Fever
  • Muscle tenderness, pain on motion
  • Increased thirst, dehydration
  • Changes in urination
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Lethargy and loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes

Other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or bleeding may depend on whether the bacteria are affecting the lungs or blood.

A visit to your veterinarian may involve blood and urine tests or x-rays; if caught early enough, the infection can be treated with antibiotics, minimizing the risk of lifelong damage.

How can you help prevent leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis vaccines are available for dogs. These shots provide 12 months of coverage. Ask your veterinarian for more details, according to the AVMA.

Reducing your dog’s exposure to potential lepto-infected sources of water, soil and such can also help prevent the bacterial infection.

 

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Bryna Elder-Munro affectionately refers to her home as the "petting zoo", reflecting her status as "mom" to rescued dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Well, the pigs call her "The Maid." A former award-winning journalist, Bryna is now a licensed massage therapist, Reiki practitioner and canine massage therapist. She, her wife and their four-legged brood live in rural Hunterdon County.

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