Star, a seemingly healthy 9 year old Boston terrier, had been unable to retain food for the last 24 hours. After being examined at Caton Crossing Animal Hospital in Plainfield, Dr. Heather Stopinkski delivered the troubling news to Star’s family: Star may have leptospirosis.
An often fatal and contagious bacterial infection, leptospirosis is transmitted through the urine of livestock and wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, and rats. In a recent study, 60% of raccoons were found to be infected with the bacteria.
Infection typically occurs when dogs drink from streams, ponds, or stagnant water where infected wildlife may have urinated. Dr. Stopinkski warns, even if the dog walks through contaminated water, there is a chance the bacteria can enter through a cut on the paw.
Cats are naturally resistant to this bacterial infection, however it is possible for dogs to pass leptospirosis on to their human owners should they come in contact with the dog’s urine. The infection is becoming more common in humans, with almost 200 cases of leptospirosis diagnosed each year.
Dr. Stopinski cautions even handling an infected dog with a cut on your hand or touching the dog and then putting something in your mouth can transmit the infection, which is just as dangerous to humans as it is to dogs.
Although symptoms may take a few days to manifest from initial infection, warning symptoms to look for in your pet include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. Typically, within the next few days following these initial symptoms, the dog will become lethargic, followed quickly by kidney and liver failure. Even if treated early enough, and the infected dog survives, Dr. Stopinksi has noticed the chance of permanent damage to the dog’s kidneys and liver remains high.
There has been an increase in infections in suburban areas due to the building of houses and resulting destruction of wildlife environment. Dr. Stopinski realizes dogs now have a greater chance of contact with wildlife, and are thus becoming exposed more often.
Fifteen years ago, the vaccine guarding against leptospirosis only protected against two strains of bacteria and caused adverse reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, and breaking out in hives. Today’s vaccine provides better coverage against the bacterial infection with fewer negative side effects.
Typically, puppies receive two injections given two to four weeks apart once they have reached 12 weeks old. Dr. Stopinski suggests evaluating older dogs for the vaccine on a case-by-case basis depending on their exposure to wildlife and their present health conditions
Treatment for leptospirosis is aggressive, especially if the dog’s kidneys and liver have already failed. Treatment includes hospitalization, antibiotics, and intravenous fluids.
Unfortunately for Star, the Boston terrier, treatment did little to cure the infection and she continued to decline in health. The pain became unbearable and Star’s family made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Star to alleviate her suffering.
It is important to talk with your veterinarian to determine if your dog runs the risk of contracting leptospirosis. Get your dogs vaccinated against leptospirosis to protect your health and theirs.