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The Rise of Leptospirosis in Dogs

I am addressing you only by print today, as I am under the weather and have no voice for my podcast tonight.  However, the message I have to offer you this week may save your dog’s life one day, so I implore you to please read on…

Leptospira is a type of bacteria known as a spirochete.  Spirochetes are motile bacteria, that is, they have a means of self propulsion in liquid media.  Leptospira in particular persist for long periods in fresh standing water (puddles, wet soil, lakes, rivers, streams, etc.).  Some strains are known to live in water outside of a host for as long as 6 months.

Its persistence in the environment is an especially troubling aspect of leptospirosis, because it is transmitted through the urine of most mammalian species.  It is especially prevalent in wild squirrel populations, posing a serious threat to to canines that come in contact with infected urine, who in turn can transmit the disease to their human family.  Children are particularly vulnerable to infection from the family dog.  Therefore, leptospirosis falls into category of diseases that can be transmitted to people: zoonotic diseases.

Once it enters the host, leptospira has an affinity for the liver and kidneys.  Initial signs of disease are lethargy, poor to no appetite, and a jaundiced (yellow) appearance to the whites of the eyes, skin, and gums.  As the disease progresses, severe fever, vomiting, dehydration, and shock set in as the liver and kidneys begin to fail.  Once the patient is compromised from active infection, leptospirosis carries a high mortality rate, with 30% – 40% fatality even with aggressive treatment.  Treatment consist of high doses of IV fluids, antibiotics, GI, liver and kidney protectants.

Luckily, a very effective vaccine for leptospirosis exists for dogs.  However, in a well intentioned but perhaps in some cases overzealous push to reduce vaccine schedules, leptospirosis vaccine administration has dropped substantially, and as a result, leptospirosis incidence is rising to a troubling level.  For example, whereas in the past I did not tyically see more than one case per year if that, my veterinary hospital has recently seen 2 cases within one week of one another.  This increased frequency of disease in my hospital is no coincidence, as national statistics are reflecting a sharp increase in the incidence of disease.  And although leptospirosis is more prevalent in tropical and subtropical climates, the increase in the incidence of disease is increasing regardless of climate in places like the eastern seaboard as far north as Maine, in the midwest and even in western states.  Basically wherever there is fresh water and wild rodent populations, there is a leptospirosis risk.

As my previous posts have indicated, I am very open to alternative medicine and holistic care where appropriate, as well as utilizing immunology reasearch to reduce vaccine frequency.  However, in our effort to limit vaccine frequency, we must continue to toe the line of adequate protection while making our best effort to avoid over-vaccinating patients whenever possible.  While we underestimated the endemic impact of leptospirosis, partly by getting a bit overzealously swept up in vaccine reform, we now have strong evidence that the risk of disease far outweighs the risk of vaccinating against leprospirosis.  As such, the doctors in my hospital have engaged in a push toward getting more dogs covered with the leptospirosis vaccine.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL and founder/CEO of Web-DVM.net.

One thought on “The Rise of Leptospirosis in Dogs

  1. micro job says:

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