I’ve seen a lot of recent media coverage regarding leptospirosis, which I had my dog vaccinated against. News coverage suggests the problem is transmitted by mice. I thought other species and wildlife were carriers of this disease, which is why I had my dog vaccinated. We live in the suburbs and there isn’t much around for rats in our neighborhood, or at least we don’t think so.
How much of a problem is this and should we worry? It seems that this disease can also affect humans. Can we get it from our dogs, how do dogs get infected and what are the symptoms? How dangerous is it for our pets or us and can it be treated?
There has been some local media coverage regarding leptospirosis based on a homeless man contracting the disease, possibly from city rats. Rats are just one of many species, including dogs, that can be sensitive and transmit this spirochete bacterium that can cause diseases with symptoms such as fever, generalized pain, chills, and in severe cases jaundice and more severe signs of disease. The form of transmission to people, dogs, and other species is urine that enters a body through wounds or other contact with infected urine. Homeless populations often live with poor sanitation and as such can be exposed to urine, which can be in soil, standing water, or actual urine.
In cities, rodents are a common source. In dogs, the clinical signs are quite similar with fever and lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, lack of appetite and weakness, and dogs may also appear stiff and sore. Increased thirst and urination may also be noted, suggesting kidney impairment and impending kidney failure.
Leptospirosis can be transmitted between animals and humans. The worst manifestations lead to liver and kidney failure, which can be fatal if left untreated. The good news is that this bacterium can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Since your dog is vaccinated and you live in the suburbs, I suspect the risk is minimal.
Dogs can be exposed to infected soil and water or wild animal urine anywhere. Due to the presence of wildlife everywhere, the recommendation to vaccinate dogs against leptospirosis is logically sound. There are four common serotypes, and most vaccines today protect against all of them. Dogs are usually diagnosed with leptospirosis based on the history and clinical signs that lead to appropriate diagnostic tests. Because people live in close contact with their dogs and clean up after them, if a dog is diagnosed as positive, it is not uncommon to advise owners to consult their doctors, maintain a high level of good hygiene, and take a preventative dose of antibiotics. .
Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.