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Dog Owners: Potential Leptospirosis Outbreak in DC?

by Borderstan.com October 18, 2011 at 9:25 am 1,053 4 Comments

Leptospirosis, Tori Tyree

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is spread primarily through standing water. Talk to your vet about the vaccine for it. (Luis Gomez Photos)

The following information on Leptospirosis is for informational purposes for dog owners. If you have concerns about your dog and the disease, and the vaccine for it, contact your vet.

From Tori Tyree. Questions? Leave a comment or email Tori at [email protected]. Her column on pets runs biweekly and she runs Walk of the Town.

I was forwarded a blog post from the Bloomingdale neighborhood blog about a dog that may have died from Leptospirosis. The reader said he immediately called his vet about scheduling this year’s Leptospirosis vaccination and the clinic said he was the third caller of the day asking about the disease and the vaccination. As a result, I felt it was necessary to pass along the information to our readers.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by a family of organisms known as Leptospira interrogans. As a water-borne bacteria, it is spread most commonly by contamination of water sources by infected urine of wildlife and domestic animals.

Read more: Infectious Diseases of Dogs – VetInfo  Until recently, vaccines were available for only two strains, Leptospirosis canicola and L. icterhaemorrhagiae, but vaccines for two additional types, L. grippotyphosa and L. pomona, which are the culprits for the latest outbreaks in other urban areas such as New York City, are now on the market.

Since there seems to be a sudden outbreak of Leptospirosis here in DC now — and some animals in our area are getting very sick — it appears that the benefits outweigh the risks of a vaccination. Remember that Leptospirosis vaccines may only protect dogs for six to eight months, so veterinarians in high risk areas recommend twice-yearly vaccination. Continue working with your vet to determine the risks in upcoming months.

Because there are seven (or more!) strains of this virus, a vaccine is not always guaranteed to inoculate your pet against the threat. Moreover, a lot of dogs have allergic reactions to the vaccine, which makes it difficult to decide whether or not to even get the vaccine.

I have never been a fan of vaccinations. I believe we routinely over-vaccinate our animals and it causes them a long list of health problems. Many times we are encouraged to vaccinate against diseases that haven’t been seen in years, or re-vaccinate every year when the initial vaccination should protect against the disease for much longer (when’s the last time you had a vaccination?

That said, since there seems to be a sudden outbreak of lepto here in DC now — and some animals in our area are getting very sick — it appears that the benefits outweigh the risks. Also, keep in mind that Leptospirosis vaccines may only protect dogs for six to eight months, so veterinarians in high risk areas recommend twice-yearly vaccination. Continue working with your vet to determine the risks in upcoming months.

Dogs that frequent dog parks and like to drink standing water are especially at risk. Since we’ve had so much rain here in the past few weeks, it is not surprising that there has been an increase in reported dogs cases of Leptospirosis. Also, cats can catch lepto as well, but they don’t get sick. Essentially, they are carriers of the disease. This is dangerous because of the number of feral cats that can be spreading the disease through their urine.

The Symptoms

Henry Boer, DVM of Pioneer Valley Veterinary Hospital in western Massachusetts writes, “Symptoms are typical of kidney and liver disease, and can include fever, loss of appetite, muscle pain, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. Some dogs will have an increased water consumption and urine output while others may have a decreasing output of urine. Jaundice may occur, and the dog may be painful in the abdominal area or in the lower back.”

A blood test will show liver or kidney involvement, and the disease is confirmed by finding the bacteria in a urine sample or in a liver or kidney biopsy.

Treatment

Once diagnosed, lepto can be treated with common antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline and erythromycin. In advanced cases, therapies to deal with any liver or kidney involvement will also be necessary. I would also recommend a regiment of holistic options that keep liver function healthy by using milk thistle and dandelion root.

A dog that has recovered from disease caused by one strain of Leptospirosis will be protected from disease caused by that strain in the future, but that protection does not cross species. Unfortunately, the dog will remain susceptible to other forms of the disease.

Conclusion

For the time being, I would suggest keeping your dog away from standing water so they don’t drink from it, and talk to your vet about the vaccination options they have. They will have the most up-to-date information on the virus. Make sure to talk to them about possible side effects and do research on your breed. Small dogs are more prone to reactions than the larger breeds. Again, the benefits may outweigh the risks, but you need to know what to look out for.

Remember: Always be informed!

Comments (4)

  1. This post is not only informative, but well-reasoned. I appreciate your common-sense perspective about vaccines and share your view that many vets are prone to over-vaccinate! With this sort of good information about potential outbreaks, we can make more informed decisions.

  2. So happy that this reminder went out. Lucy is scheduled for her vaccine on Sunday – the vet said they are getting many calls from DC and she is recommended the vaccine for the medium-to-large dogs that live in the city.

  3. Also important to note that humans can be infected from the same bacterial strains as their dogs.

  4. I first learned about this disease a year ago when we took our dog in for her annual checkup and shots. It seemed like a no-brainer to have the vaccinations for it. Thanks for getting the info out there.

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