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Revisiting spirochetes

by Katie McKay | Nov 10, 2013

When it comes to dogs, I'm nosey. I don't do it on purpose but when people mention that their dog is sick or something "weird" is going on with their dog, I tend involve myself.  I generally ask a lot of questions mostly because I love dogs and puzzles and I'm a huge science nerd.  But I am careful not to ramble on about this stuff, especially when people aren’t necessarily soliciting my two cents =)

Over the course of about three weeks, I received bits and pieces of a very sick dog’s story.  I want to share with everyone because I think it’s a great learning situation!  This is a coworker's dog, who we will call Halle. 

Halle began feeling pretty down in the dumps for several days.  She began having accidents in the house and had started to refuse to go on her regular long hikes or catch the frisbee.  

Her owner took her to see her regular vet.

The vet did a full exam and a urine test however they did not find anything indicative of a urinary tract infection.  They did send a culture on her urine.  As you may remember from when we talked about pee collecting, if a dog is peeing a lot, the sample can be diluted and we may not be able to see what we need to see.  The good news is that with the urine culture, we can pick up even the smallest little bug and that can give us a lot of information.

After only a couple of days on the antibiotic, Halle still wasn’t acting right and she had stopped eating.  This is a problem not only for causing stomach upset, but also for proper absorption of the medication.  Halle had mostly just been lying around and moaning.  Within a few days, the urine culture results came back.  The good news was that there was indeed bacteria growing, the bad news was that it was unusual bacteria.  E. coli, streptococcus and enterococcus are the most common bacteria isolated from dogs with UTIs, but Halle was not growing any of those bugs in her urine.  Another trip to the vet meant bloodwork and a new antibiotic.  The results indicated a severe problem with her kidneys.  It was clear from the blood tests that Halle was suffering from an infection, but the more striking results were the kidney values.  At this point, the vet suggested doing an ultrasound of her kidneys and x-rays.

The owner decided that they would try the new antibiotic and see if she improved.   But after a few more days on the new antibiotic, Halle was still not getting any better. 

So now what?

Before I could help myself and listening to how sick this poor pup was, out came my questions…..“Are you sure nothing else has been going on with her?  Did she get in to something?  Has anything else weird happened lately that’s out of the norm for her?” She thought for a moment and said, “Well, she did fall coming out of the water a couple weeks ago.”  So she’s been having trouble with her back end?  The owner stated that yes, she had been, but that she seemed fine after a couple of days.  Did you mention this to your vet?  Yep, she did.  Sure it was possible she fell and hurt herself, but that wouldn’t have messed up her kidneys.  The second thing that popped in to my head was the water and the fact that I had heard my coworker mention here and there that not only does she live near the Eno River, but also that she often took Halle hiking and swimming there.  Ticks!  Sure it is not really tick season in October, but as you may recall from our tick discussions, symptoms can come and go, sometimes without the owner even noticing.  Tick disease can also lay dormant for long periods before it returns with symptoms severe enough to make us notice.  Tick disease can cause rear-end weakness and can also attack the kidneys…..hmmmm what else can attack the kidneys?  “Has your dog been vaccinated for Leptospirosis?”  In my head this all made perfect sense.  Eno River area is loaded with wildlife and if Halle had been swimming in the water, she was most certainly in contact with carriers of Lepto (raccoons, foxes, etc).  My coworker went straight to Google, she had never heard of Lepto (first red flag) and as she started to read about the symptoms of Lepto, said, this sounds exactly like my dog. 

After our conversation, she called her vet to see if it was possible that Halle had Lepto and to ask if she had ever been vaccinated for it.  Unfortunately her vet said, oh no, I don’t think so, that’s a cattle disease and also after checking her records, noted that Halle had indeed never been vaccinated for Lepto. Sigh, there is a two-fold problem here.  Shame on your vet number one.  Halle has been going to this vet for several years, the vet should know Halle’s lifestyle not only includes living in the Eno River area, but also swimming and hiking there putting her at a risk for contracting something like Lepto.  This vet should have discussed this risks and benefits with the owner and explained that she should probably be vaccinated for Lepto.  In addition, Halle, like most dogs, gets a distemper/parvovirus combo vaccination every three years.  Although most of the illnesses that this combo vaccine protects against are fine to vaccinate every three years, the Lepto vaccine has only shown protection for just up to a year and therefore needs to be done annually.  And shame on the vet for blowing the owner off when she suggested it.  A vet that isn’t keeping up on the illnesses that are affecting ALL dogs, and not just the ones they see at their clinic, in their area should at least have the common sense to LISTEN to the owner or to ask their peers. 

This prompted a trip to the specialty hospital where my coworker mentioned everything that had happened, including the possibility of Lepto.  When the specialty vet reviewed the records from the regular vet’s office (i.e. weird urine culture results, highly abnormal kidney values in her bloodwork) she agreed that Lepto was a possibility, along with some other things to check for, and they sent off special testing to find out.  Just a couple of days ago, I received an email from my coworker saying that the testing had come back and the specialty vet told her it was “the highest Lepto titer she had ever seen”. 

After just 3 days on the right antibiotic, Halle was running, playing and eating again like nothing had ever happen to her.

There is one thing that I will never take for granted and that is LISTENING.  I am lucky enough to work with dog people in the rescue, but any loving dog owner can tell you when their dog is “just not acting right”.  Many times I don’t have the luxury of ever seeing the dog, but I can still help because I listen to the human who’s taking care of that dog.  What continues to leave me in awe is the amazing group of fosters that work with NRGRR.  A foster generally knows nothing about their dog’s past, yet they have this ability to detect if even the slightest thing is “off”.  It usually starts out with “maybe I’m being paranoid but….” email and nine times out of ten, they’ve caught something even a vet may have missed.  I ask a lot of questions and in the process, they make me look good, but honestly, they are the real heroes here.  All I do, is listen.

So the next time you are sure there is something off about your furry kid, trust your gut and make your vet listen to you.  We have to speak for them and no one can do that better than you.   

Cheers!

Katie

To Learn more about Leptospirosis, click here.

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