You may have seen a lot more people walking in your neighborhood with their dogs, and this increase isn't just because the weather has warmed up. The COVID-19 pandemic has emptied many shelters of dogs (YAY!), and more people are taking lunch breaks from home to walk their furry friends.

As restrictions loosen, our local dog parks and nature trails will reopen. While we're so excited to use these outdoor spaces again, we want you to know about a common disease that both canines and humans can contract from the places that our dogs love so much.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is difficult to pronounce and deadly, caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira interrogans. These spiral-shaped bacteria attack vital organs like the liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain. When left undiagnosed and untreated, it can be fatal for dogs and people. Cats can get leptospirosis too, though it's much less common.

Many people haven't heard of leptospirosis, but according to the CDC, it's the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. So, how do dogs and people contract this life-threatening illness?

It's not the most pleasant thing to talk about, but the infection spreads through urine. The bacteria can penetrate soft and vulnerable areas of the skin like the mouth, nose, and eyelid, or enter the body through open wounds and fresh scratches. If your dog is an enthusiastic pee-spot sniffer or likes to drink from every puddle they see, they are at risk of getting infected.

What Locations Have the Highest Risk of Leptospirosis?

Anywhere wildlife or an infected dog may urinate, there is a risk of leptospirosis. This includes:

Ponds

Puddles

Lakes

Streams

Dog parks

Parks

Trails

What Are the Effects of Leptospirosis?

The Leptospira bacterium enters the body and heads straight to the bloodstream. From there, it multiplies and moves throughout the body, often concentrating within vital organs, particularly kidneys.

Most healthy dogs become ill but can fight off the infection, but others cannot. There are also instances where dogs become sick and recover. Still, some of the bacteria may remain, causing the dog to become reinfected and start the healing process all over again.

Fortunately, it's possible to kill Leptospira bacterium with antibiotics like doxycycline. Since vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms, your dog may first need to receive treatment through an IV before switching to oral medication.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Dogs with leptospirosis often show symptoms similar to the flu. However, some may be asymptomatic. (Sound familiar?) The most common symptoms include:

Vomiting and diarrhea

Lethargy

Fever

Weight loss

Lack of appetite

Jaundice

Shaking and shivering

Trouble breathing

How Can You Protect Your Dog from Leptospirosis?

As the temperatures rise, your dog will seek out water sources on walks, increasing the chance of picking up Leptospira bacterium. As cases of leptospirosis in dogs rise in the U.S., we recommend dog owners protect their pets with a vaccine.

Make an appointment with us today for your dog's leptospirosis vaccination. All it takes is a simple injection to keep your dog from getting sick.

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