2013-03-22 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

Setting The Facts Straight About Leptospirosis
Commentary By Dr. Jay Rogoff And Dr. Allan Simon

Here are a few frequently asked questions that should help pet owners better understand this disease.

Why should a pet owner care about leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis can cause acute renal failure in dogs. Some may recover after prolonged intensive care in the hospital, while others may not survive or survive with permanent renal function impairment. Leptospirosis can also cause liver damage, uveitis, respiratory disease, vasculitis, and bleeding disorders. In addition, because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, family members, the veterinary healthcare team and other animals are at risk for infection.

Is leptospirosis really a problem in my area?

Leptospirosis is a global disease and is likely present throughout most of the United States (except for true desert regions). It is more prevalent in warm, wet, and humid climates. Most dogs are exposed to leptospirosis in environments contaminated by urine of wild-animal hosts, including raccoons, opossums, mice, voles, rats, and squirrels. After superstorm Sandy, several of the animal hospitals in Manhattan saw a large number of cases of leptospirosis.

These were some of the hospitals that helped the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways to distribute food for the animals in our community. They realized that the pets needed to be in good health and properly fed after the hurricane.

I own a small-breed dog that only goes outside to urinate and defecate. How could she/he be exposed to leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is not limited to large-breed or outdoor dogs. If a dog goes outside, she/he could be exposed since it only takes contact with one wild animal’s contaminated urine. If you see squirrels, opossums, raccoons, or mice in your neighborhood, any of these animals could be spreading the infection. The flood waters disturbed the homes of some of these animals and they are being seen more frequently in our area.

Should I be concerned about the side effects of the leptospirosis vaccine?

Older vaccines against leptospirosis contained proteins that sometimes caused a reaction in dogs. The reactions were not always serious, but owners were still concerned, and veterinarians understood those concerns. Fortunately, newer vaccines are more purified and result in fewer reactions. Our practice recommends that the leptospirosis vaccine be given separately from other vaccines.

Do the leptospirosis vaccines really work? I have heard they only protect for a few months and have to be repeated frequently.

Some excellent studies have shown that the vaccines protect for at least one year. The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways recommends a yearly booster after the initial course of vaccines. We also recommend vaccines that protect against four strains of leptospirosis, rather than older vaccines that only protected against two strains.

What happens if my dog is not vaccinated and gets sick with leptospirosis? Is it treatable?

There are many possibilities, from mild signs you may not even notice to sudden death. Most dogs that get sick with leptospirosis will develop kidney failure or liver damage.

Sometimes the kidney failure is severe enough that dialysis is required. Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, but with severe infections, significant organ damage may occur before antibiotics can clear the infection. Leptospirosis can also damage the eyes, lungs, and blood vessels, causing unusual signs that can be difficult to diagnose.

This is a vaccine that we have been recommending to our clients for many years.

If you have any questions or want additional information please feel free to contact us at 718-474-0500 or stop in at 114-10 Beach Channel Drive and any of the veterinarians will be happy to speak with you. We want to protect all our pets.

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