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What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis (lepto for short) is a serious bacterial disease of dogs, multiple animal species and humans that occurs in countries around the world, mainly in tropical and temperate regions. In the United States, it has become an increasing concern in recent years, especially in cities and suburbs. The main reason is growing populations of wildlife, like raccoons and skunks, which carry the disease and infect dogs indirectly. Dogs can get sick even if they never come into direct contact with infected animals.

Lepto has been diagnosed in all types of dogs. All breeds and sizes of dogs are at risk. Lepto can be a very serious disease and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. It generally attacks a dog's liver and kidneys, and can lead to organ damage or failure. If caught early, it responds well to antibiotics, and fortunately, vaccination can help prevent lepto.

Lepto is a family of bacteria with multiple "subfamilies" called serovars. Around the world, there are more than 200 serovars of lepto. Although there are many serovars, only a few are known to cause disease in dogs. Newer vaccines, such as those from Pfizer, contain four serovars for protection against today's most common serovars. Older vaccines only protect against two serovars.

How is it transmitted?

Lepto is usually spread through the urine of an infected animal. Most dogs that venture outdoors even for a very short period are at risk for lepto. Dogs typically become infected when they come into contact with wet grass, soil, puddles, streams or ponds contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The bacteria can enter through a cut in the skin or mucous membranes, such as the eye, nose or mouth.

Here's how easy it is for a dog to become exposed to lepto. An infected animal urinates in a puddle of water or in the dew covered grass, even in your backyard. Your dog steps in the contaminated material, then licks his feet during normal grooming and is exposed.

               Wildlife and domestic animals commonly infected with lepto include:

  • raccoons
  • skunks
  • rats
  • mice
  • squirrels
  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • deer
  • horses
  • cattle
  • pigs
  • dogs

Why is the concern increasing?

Dogs living in recently urbanized areas are at greater risk for lepto, perhaps due to increased opportunity for contact with wildlife (M. Ward, L. Guptill, C. Wu. JAVMA Vol. 225, No. 1, July 2004). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, suburbanization has increased significantly nationwide since 1990. This means there is a greater chance for interaction between dogs and the primary host for lepto, wildlife. Lepto pathogens are now broadly dispersed throughout the United States (G. Moore, Emerging Infectious Disease, Vol. 12, No. 3, March 2006).

What are the possible risks associated with giving a vaccination?

Vaccinations, like any medical procedure, do have some risks associated with them. Small breeds, in general, have been implicated in a higher percentage of these adverse events. Severe reactions, although uncommon are possible, and, in general, reactions and side effects (such as pain and swelling at the site of the injection) are only temporary. Allergic reactions are less common but can be fatal if left untreated. Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice swelling in your pet’s neck or face after a vaccine has been administered.

What is the risk to humans?

Lepto is a "zoonotic" disease, meaning humans can catch it from animals. Dog owners can get sick from coming into contact with infected dog urine or any other body fluids. They also can contract lepto the same way dogs do: by swimming in, or drinking, contaminated water from streams, lakes or ponds, or by contact with contaminated grass or soil.

Contact us at 586-293-3922 to set up an appointment for your dog to receive the Leptospirosis vaccine.