Leptospirosis outbreaks in the Valley of the Sun have been on the rise in recent months. While leptospirosis is more common in warm climates with high annual rainfall, it can occur anywhere, even in the desert. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pets healthy and safe:
WHAT IS LEPTOSPIROSIS? Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria, which lives in soil and water. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS? Common risk factors for dogs include exposure to or drinking from rivers, lakes or streams; roaming on rural properties; exposure to wild animal or farm animal species, even if in the backyard; and contact with rodents or other dogs.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD? Dogs can become infected if mucous membranes (or skin with any wound, such as a cut or scrape) come into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water, food or bedding; through a bite from an infected animal; by eating infected tissues or carcasses; and rarely, through breeding. It can also be passed through the placenta from the mother dog to the puppies.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? Symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs may include: Fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes), or painful inflammation within the eyes. The disease can cause kidney failure with or without liver failure.
Dogs may occasionally develop severe lung disease and have difficulty breathing. Leptospirosis can cause bleeding disorders, which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva; nosebleeds; and pinpoint red spots (which may be visible on the gums and other mucous membranes or on light-colored skin). Affected dogs can also develop swollen legs (from fluid accumulation) or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen.
PREVENTION: Vaccines can effectively prevent leptospirosis and help protect dogs for at least 12 months, and annual vaccinations are recommended for at-risk dogs. Your AZPetVet healthcare team can help protect your pet against leptospirosis and other diseases. Find a location near you.
TREATMENT: Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics. Treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage. Although an infected pet dog presents a low risk of infection for you and your family, there is still some risk. If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, take the following precautions to protect yourself:
- Administer antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Avoid contact with your dog’s urine.
- If your dog urinates in your home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant and wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the urine.
- Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where people or other animals will have access.
- Wash your hands after handling your pet.