Leptospirosis, or "lepto," is a systemic disease that is dangerous to both animals and humans. The disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires. It occurs worldwide and is prevalent in Eagle County and throughout Colorado. Dogs most commonly contract leptospirosis from coming in contact with urine from wildlife, bite wounds, or eating animals infected with leptospirosis. It is a potentially fatal disease that can infect the liver, kidneys, brain, lung and heart of animals and humans.
The organism is spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into the water or soil and survive for weeks to months. Stagnant or slow-moving water presents the highest risk for infection. Humans and pets become infected through contact with contaminated urine or other bodily fluids. Bite wounds and consumption of infected tissue (i.e., dead wildlife) can transmit the disease. Infected animals can continue to excrete the organism for multiple years in some cases. In addition, pets that are successfully treated can continue to spread the organism.
The diagnosis for leptospirosis is made by testing the blood and urine from suspected animals. The most common signs of infection in our pets are lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, excessive water drinking and appetite depression. These signs stem from acute liver failure and kidney failure, which are the most common issues seen with leptospirosis. Less commonly the organism can infect the brain, causing seizures, loss of balance and dementia.
Treatment for leptospirosis consists of antibiotics and intravenous fluids. Penicillins are used initially to treat the active infection while doxycycline has been used to prevent the carrier state. Although, we are now finding that doxycycline can likely do both. IV fluids help to restore function to the damaged kidneys and liver.
Pets can be vaccinated against leptospirosis at any age. The vaccine is typically started in pups between 12 and 14 weeks of age. After three to four weeks the pup will require a booster and shot. Lepto vaccines will be required annually thereafter to be effective. The vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection. This is because there are many subtypes of the species, known as serovars. Numerous types of animals can carry and spread the bacteria, including rodents, opossums, skunks, raccoons, wolves and deer. Dogs that are exposed to wildlife are at an increased risk.
Don't wait - find out how you can protect your pets and family today; consult your veterinarian for more information.
The Vail Valley Animal Hospital has two locations, in Eagle-Vail and Edwards. One of our veterinarians is always on call after hours during the week for emergencies. In addition, an emergency hospital in Edwards location is open on weekends and holidays, with an ER doctor on location 24 hours a day. For more information on services, facilities and locations, or to make an appointment, call 970-949-4044 or visit www.vailvalleyanimalhospital.com.