Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

It’s Lepto, its Lepto, for fun it’s a wonderful toy.

by User Not Found | Aug 17, 2012

Just the other night, I looked out my front window and saw a fox casually sauntering through my yard.  A fox!  A real live, wild fox.  I’m sure he was on his way to find some chickens to snack on ( I called my neighbors to warn them), but it just had me gawking out the window amazed.  I’ve worked for the Division of Wildlife and at two different zoos, but to see a fox out and about where I had just been walking my dog still made me think twice.  We see this stuff all the time, don’t we?  Raccoons, rats, opossums, they just wander on to our porches now.  We want to live and walk around in nature, just not come face to face with it, right?  No, not always, but we would like it to keep a safe distance.

Leptospirosis is a wicked cool bacteria.  It’s spiral shaped, like a slinky and is known to us science nerds as a “spirochete”, and they can swim!  Now for the not so cool part.  Unfortunately, they can cause disease in humans and dogs, yep that’s our friend the zoonotic disease.  (I know you are all experts from my previous post about zoonotic diseases). Lepto is always present in the environment for your dog to pick up, that’s because it’s perpetuated by many of the critters I mentioned above.  The Lepto bacteria lives in the kidneys so it’s introduced into the environment when these animals pee.  They don’t look sick and every time they pee, they are dropping live Lepto bugs right into the environment, sometimes for months, sometimes for life.  Gross.  Humans and dogs can get this disease but only with direct contact with the urine, blood, tissue of an infected animal.  So how do people and other animals get infected, it’s not like we are playing around with the excrement of wildlife?  Well…..I’m so glad you asked!

We see more cases of Lepto usually after heavy rains.  When soil is contaminated with Lepto bugs, heavy rains can wash them into puddles and other forms of standing water.  Let me paint a scene for you that I’m sure you have witnessed….Imagine the internal monologue of your golden, if you will.  Woo hoo, mom says it’s time to go outside!  Door opens, ok wait, wait, wait, GO!  Run, run, run, where is that squirrel?  Wait, what’s that??  Water?  Sweet!!  Run, dive and splat.  Hmm, I’m thirsty now after all that running.  Drink, drink, drink.  I know there’s more water around here somewhere, oh yeah, that bird thing. Drink, drink, drink.

If your retrievers are like mine, they love water and don’t care how disgusting it is.  I find myself yelling, don’t drink that, more often than I like to admit.  Even if they aren’t big swimmers, less often dogs can pick up these Lepto bugs by sniffing or eating the contaminated soil or water or by picking it up thru a wound while wading or swimming.  Not surprisingly, working dogs and dogs that spend their time in swampy or wooded areas (Good morning campers!) are more likely to pick up Lepto.

So how do we know if our dogs have Lepto?  Well…..that’s tricky because some dogs may never become ill, however that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer from long-term damage carrying that nasty bug around.  Issues like kidney damage.  The other problem is, Lepto causes a lot of symptoms in dogs that do become ill that look like other illnesses.  Just like in people, everything has flu-like symptoms or are “just my allergies”. High fevers, depression, joint paint and powerful toxins that attack the liver and kidneys are just a few of the perks of giving this bug a cozy home.  Yellowing of the skin and whites of their eyes can mean there is liver damage.  YOU can catch it too and that means cleaning up “accidents” can expose you.  The good news is, you’ve already learned that washing your hands does wonders for your personal health.  Guess what makes you very unlikely to catch Lepto?!?!  You’ll never guess….ok I’ll tell you…Wash your hands.  If you do handle anything that may be covered in urine/blood, just be sure to really wash your hands.  In other words, don't put your hands in your mouth after you play with pee.  =) 

And now for the Vax Talk.  Yes there is a vaccine for Lepto.  It is considered a “non-core” vaccine meaning not everyone needs to have it, so you should talk to your vet about whether it’s appropriate for your dog and his/her lifestyle.  An important issue to note is that it’s a good idea to get this vaccine separately, rather than in a “combo” vaccine.  There are studies showing that giving too many vaccines at once can interfere with their effectiveness.  Plus, this vaccine is usually given with Distemper and Parvo and those vaccines are recommended at 3 year intervals, Lepto should be given annually.  Of course things are never that easy are they?  Lepto has many types, it’s a bit like something from the transformers movie, it can turn into a car or a truck or a van.  So be sure that your vet is vaccinating your dog for all types (polyclonal) and not using the truck only vaccine (monoclonal).

Limiting your dog’s access to water that may be contaminated is just half the battle.  Anyone have that urge to feed the feral kittens running around, or those cute little wild critters in the backyard?  You might want to think twice about that.  Cats are unlikely to spread Lepto, but the food you leave out for them will attract some well-known carriers like Raccoons.  Insert sinister music here.

Treatment is usually a course of antibiotics, but may need lots of fluids to flush their kidneys and keep them hydrated from vomiting.  The tricky part is diagnosis.  Lepto mimics other illnesses so it may take some detective work on the part of your vet to figure it out.  Be sure you weigh and consider all your options when deciding whether to vaccinate your dog or not. 

Happy swimming!


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