Leptospirosis…sounds like something from a horror movie, doesn’t it?
Well, in a way, it kind of is.
So, what is it?
Leptospirosis is a bacteria, a spirochete to be exact. This is the same ‘type’ of bacteria as lyme disease. Why are these types of diseases and bacteria sometimes more dangerous to our body than the rest of the bacteria we are surrounded by everyday? The answer lies in the body’s response, or lack of response, to the bacteria as a whole.
How Does My Pet Become Infected?
Leptospirosis sneaks into the body through the mucous membranes or the intestinal tract. Because of the special shape and size of the bacteria, the body often cannot ‘clear it’ like it can other types of bacteria with which we come in contact. When an animal becomes infected, this bacteria can nestle in the kidneys, liver, and reproductive tract. Younger or immune compromised animals are at a higher risk for developing complications to this disease.
Exposure risks are increased to animals and people who live in wet and warm environments with high access to wildlife. Does this sound familiar Bedford?! It should! A recent article put Bedford County in the Top 10 Counties that have the highest risk of dogs contracting leptospirosis, which is estimated to be in in every 3.6 dogs!
Another problem with leptospirosis is that the signs can be vague. Unexplained pain throughout the body, increase in urinating, yellow discoloration of the eyes or skin, swelling of the lymph nodes, increased breathing. weakness…sounds like it covers the whole array of possibilities, doesn’t it? A recent study has suggested that the most common sign of an early leptospirosis infection is vomiting and diarrhea.
Liver and kidney failure are some known concerns that cause veterinarians to look and test for this bacteria, but a number of signs may be arise before this. If you are noticing any of these signs in your pet, ensure that you keep a well-documented journal to convey to your veterinary team. This may aid them in the diagnosis, and get your pet the treatment it needs faster!
Why Have I Never Heard of It?
Leptospirosis IS a zoonotic disease. This means that it can be spread from your pet to you and other humans. Leptospirosis is believed to be under-diagnosed. This is because just like the bacteria can hide in the body in the immune system, it can hide from current conventional testing methods. While there is research being done to make this testing easier, it is often not a ‘simple’ diagnosis.
This Sounds Terrible!
Leptospirosis can make your dog and you VERY sick, and can even lead to kidney and liver failure. There is a treatment for leptospirosis the bacteria, and if caught early enough, can prevent major organ failure. A long-term course of this antibiotic can generally address the infection, but you animal may run the risk of re-exposure or his/her infection not being cleared entirely!
So what else can you do about it? There is a vaccine for leptospirosis! Many dogs in highly at-risk areas may already be receiving this without even knowing it. However, talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s risk for exposure, the benefits and concerns for the vaccine, and other questions you might have.
In the mean time, have a wonderful and safe start of Spring!