Xtra_iStock_000037649852_LargeAsk many dog owners what their biggest fear is regarding canine diseases or illnesses and they may say parvo or rabies. And with good reason as the core vaccines for dogs focus on the big four: canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, and rabies. But, depending on your dog’s level of exposure to the outdoors, or to crowded kennels and dog parks, it can be equally important to vaccinate against diseases like leptospirosis which are too often ignored.

To truly understand what vaccines are needed for your pet, begin by educating yourself on some of the common diseases, such as leptospirosis.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis…even the name sounds worrisome and exotic. But, what is it and is your dog at risk?

Essentially, leptospirosis, or lepto, is a bacterial infection that is picked up through contact with contaminated water or soil. These sources were contaminated through the urine of infected skunks, raccoons, or coyotes (among other wildlife). While direct contact with an infected animal can be a source of transmission, most dogs never come into direct contact with the source of their lepto.

While the disease can impact cats, it is mostly dogs who are diagnosed. This is because dogs are oftentimes more likely to be exposed to the bacteria by breathing in or ingesting the soil (we know how much our dogs love to snarf in the soil) or drinking water contaminated with the corkscrew-shaped bacteria called leptospira.

Exposure Risks and Symptoms of Canine Lepto

Sprinting through creeks and puddles, drinking from a rain puddle, and rolling limbs akimbo in the dirt – these are the pleasures of canines. However, the more time your dog spends in natural areas, such as fields, woods, and around lakes, the greater his chances of coming into contact with the nefarious leptospira.

It is also worth noting that many strains of leptospirosis can be transferred to humans, making this disease even more of a concern.

Symptoms in dogs infected with lepto include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain or stiffness
  • Lack of appetite
  • General malaise

When diagnosed early – through a blood test – treatment typically entails antibiotics, fluid replacement, monitoring organ health, and preventing secondary conditions from emerging.

When untreated, the disease can progress into a very serious condition called pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome, which causes bleeding from the lungs, or even kidney or liver failure.

Prevention: Vaccination and Other Measures

If your dog is deemed to be at a higher level of risk for leptospirosis, you may wish to talk with your veterinarian about the current vaccine. While the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the bacteria, it does cover the most common ones.

Vaccines last between 6-8 months, so if you are out with your dog in natural areas (especially those with hunting dogs), we encourage you to consider a twice yearly vaccine.

Other measures you can take to reduce risk include:

  • Preventing your pet from ingesting soil or water when in areas that are rife with wild animals (which can include urban areas where skunks and raccoons are present)
  • Sticking to maintained trails and keeping your pet on a leash
  • Keeping any pet suspected of being infected with lepto quarantined (remember: leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease that can be transferred to family members, so it is best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian if you suspect infection)

To learn more about lepto and your pet’s risk, we suggest scheduling a wellness examination with your veterinary clinic to discuss options and the canine leptospirosis vaccine.