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Leptospirosis (Lepto) is a multi-system bacterial disease seen in dogs. These bacteria are commonly found in water and soil. Case numbers of leptospirosis are higher during periods of heavy rainfall and warmer winters and it is more commonly diagnosed in late summer and fall. This type of infection has increased in numbers since the 1980s, occurring in rural as well as suburban areas.

Without causing signs of disease, lepto organisms are commonly carried in raccoons, possums, skunks and rodents. The bacteria are deposited in the animals' urine, which means they can be found wherever these animals roam. The bacteria can survive in water, such as flooded areas, wet grass, puddles, ponds and slow moving streams.

Dogs can be infected by coming in contact directly with animal urine or water that carries the organism. If a dog trounces through a puddle and licks its paws afterward, the dog can be infected. The bacteria can also get into the dog's body from drinking water or licking dew or through a cut on a foot pad. Dogs are also exposed through contact with other dogs or directly with wildlife. These types of critters are present everywhere, so the Lepto bacteria are also deposited everywhere!

Because dogs are not the natural host for these bacteria, they become sick when infected.
Lepto causes a number of problems in dogs, including potentially fatal infection. Symptoms of disease can vary from fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, pain and fever, or merely drinking and urinating more frequently or weight loss. Multiple body systems can be involved, with the liver and kidneys being the heaviest targeted organs. Some patients can develop signs of a bleeding disorder or problems with red blood cell counts. Treatment for leptospirosis can involve a stay in the hospital for several days, then with medications continued at home. Depending on how soon signs are noted and treatment is started, the prognosis for recovery can vary from good to grave.

People are also at risk for lepto by coming in contact with affected water or through contact with infected pets, but direct water contact is the more common source of transmission. Symptoms in people are typically flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and/or jaundice.

Lepto is a preventable disease, as there is an effective annual 4-way vaccine available for dogs. Bellwood recommends the leptospirosis vaccine to all dogs on an annual basis as recommended by the CDC, board certified veterinary internal medicine specialists and veterinary public health officials. Lepto can also be prevented by avoiding contact with wildlife and carcasses, as well as keeping your pet from drinking from puddles, ponds, lakes, streams and flooded areas.

If you have concerns about symptoms of leptospirosis in your pet, or any other particular questions or concerns, please contact us for further information. If you have questions about symptoms for you or another individual, please contact your personal health care provider.

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