A disease that affects both people and animals, leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe and even fatal symptoms in both. It also is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted from an infected pet to a person. Once considered uncommon, it now is on the upswing nationwide, and several area veterinary practices report seeing increasing numbers of cases.
While reliably preventable in dogs through regular vaccinations, the disease is relatively unknown among the general public and therefore not a likely vaccine to request.
It can be contracted in any season, but Fall seems to be the most common. Although most prevalent in stagnant or marshy areas frequented by wildlife, it is acquired by dogs through several means including the following:
- Swimming in contaminated water, usually lakes, rivers or ponds;
- Drinking from these same contaminated bodies, or from infected puddles;
- Passing through infected puddles, soil or mud; or
- Coming into contact with urine from an infected animal. This includes urine both from dogs and wild animals.
Symptoms in your dog may vary widely, but treatment is almost always necessary to prevent serious illness or death. While veterinary experts consider those listed in bold to be the most prevalent, sudden onset of any should precipitate a trip to your veterinarian:
- Lack of appetite;
- Vomiting, possibly with blood;
- Shivering, weakness;
- Sore muscles, reluctance to move, stiffness in muscles, legs, stiff gait;
- Sudden fever and illness;
- Increased thirst and urination, which may be indicative of chronic renal (kidney) failure, progressing to inability to urinate;
- Rapid dehydration;
- Diarrhea – with or without blood in stool;
- Bloody vaginal discharge;
- Dark red speckled gums, also known as petechiae;
- Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes, giving the appearance of jaundice;
- Symptoms of anemia;
- Spontaneous cough, difficult or rapid breathing;
- Irregular pulse;
- Runny nose;
- Swelling of the mucous membrane, and/or mild swelling of the lymph nodes
If you suspect your dog may have contracted this disease, you must treat his or her bodily fluids as potentially dangerous biohazard material. Use of latex or nitrile (for those with latex allergies) gloves is strongly encouraged for you and your vet. Various blood and urine test will be performed to achieve a definitive diagnosis and determine the stage and progress of the disease in your pet.
Severe cases usually require hospitalization and fluid therapy, and some may even necessitate blood transfusions, but many can be managed at home with a combination of antibiotics, rest and isolation. The key to a successful outcome is early and accurate detection. If you think your dog may have this illness, take him or her to your veterinarian immediately. You and your vet best know your pet, and this is a time where you both need to work together for his or her well-being.
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