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What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a bacteria found in the urine of infected wild animals. Dogs can be exposed to that infected urine by swimming or drinking from streams, creeks, and ponds. Dogs can also be infected if the bacteria enters broken skin or through the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, and mouth). The bacteria then travels to the kidneys, where it multiplies and wrecks havoc on the body. It can cause kidney and liver damage, and can lead to organ failure. All in all, this is one nasty bug!
Signs and symptoms can take around 5-14 days to show up. Infected dogs show signs of fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain. These dogs do not want to eat and can become dehydrated quickly.
Leptospirosis is a difficult disease to diagnose. Your veterinarian will likely send blood to a laboratory for a titer. Unfortunately, there are many strains of the bacteria and there can be false positive as well as false negative results. Fortunately, this bacteria can be treated with antibiotics and supportive care, such as IV fluids.
This is a scary disease, so do you need to worry? Well, maybe. Leptospirosis has not been prevalent in Southern California, but there have been reported cases. There is a vaccine that protects against several of the serovars (strains) of leptospirosis, and that vaccine might be a good idea if you have a dog with a higher risk of exposure. Dogs who hike or swim in areas with ponds, lakes, and streams have a higher risk. If you take your dog hiking or camping, talk to your veterinarian and see if the leptospirosis vaccine is recommended.
One final note of concern: leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted to humans. Please contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns about leptospirosis and your dog. We are here to help keep Fido happy and healthy!