A Message from the Vet - March 2013

"What is Leptospirosis? Does my dog need to be vaccinated for this?" These questions come up daily as we see pets for their wellness check-ups. If you've been out hiking in any of the wetter parts of the island, you've likely come across the red and white signs reading: "WARNING! Leptospirosis Health Hazard. Fresh water streams and mud possibly polluted with bacteria. Swim or hike at your own risk."

Leptospirosis is a type of bacteria that can infect all mammals, including humans, dogs, cats, rodents, and other wild animals. This bacteria is excreted from infected animals through their urine, and can live in water or moist areas for weeks to months. Humans and pets can become infected through contacting urine from infected animals or even just contacting water or areas contaminated with infected urine. This bacteria can enter a body through skin or mucous membranes (such as the lining of your eyes, mouth), particularly if there are open cuts. Definitely avoid drinking any potentially contaminated water!

Infection with leptospirosis may look like the flu, with fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, and weakness. In more serious cases, it can cause potentially fatal infections of the kidney, liver, brain, lung, or heart. Because the initial signs of leptospirosis can look like many other illnesses, it is important to bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as signs of illness are seen. Be sure to tell your vet if your pet has been exposed within the past month to wet areas that may have been contaminated with infected urine.

If diagnosed and treated early in the course of the disease, leptospirosis infection can be successfully treated. Serial blood tests are needed to diagnosis leptospirosis infection and monitor your pet's response to the infection. Treatment usually consists of hospitalization with fluid therapy, appropriate antibiotics, and supportive care. During treatment, contact with the pet's urine is avoided to prevent infection of other pets and people.

The best prevention against leptospirosis is to completely avoid any wet areas that are exposed to wildlife (mongoose, wild pigs, feral cats). However, if you have an active outdoor lifestyle with your pet, even daily walks may expose your pet to these areas. The leptospirosis vaccination protects against four of the most common serovars (strains) of leptospirosis - canicola, icterohaemorrhagiae, grippotyphosa, and pomona. While your pet may still be susceptible to infections by other serovars, he or she is most likely to come into contact with these four.

Effective vaccination against leptospirosis must be done with 2 initial vaccines 1 month apart. After this, pets should be vaccinated annually to maintain their protective immunity. This vaccination is available for dogs, pigs, sheep, and goats, to name a few. Because there is no vaccination for cats, we recommend keeping your cat indoors to protect him or her from exposure to leptospirosis. If you have not yet protected your pet against this disease and would like to, please contact us and schedule a vaccination appointment as soon as possible.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.