Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria. There are over 250 subtypes of the disease, and it is a zoonotic disease, meaning that people can contract the disease as well. The causes of leptospirosis are bacteria, but there are common ways that the bacterium are spread, increasing the risk of exposure to the disease.
Carriers of “lepto” can be infected without showing symptoms. The bacteria are then shed through the carrier’s urine. Your dog can ingest the bacteria by drinking from an infected puddle, or swimming in an infected pond or stream. The lepto bacteria can be inhaled, as they can live in the soil for up to 6 months. Lepto can even “burrow” up through the pads on a dog’s paws or any of the mucous membranes.
Once the leptospirosis enters the blood stream, it disseminates throughout the body and organs, especially in the kidneys. Symptoms of infection can include nausea, joint pain, bleeding, depression, fever, loss of appetite and general malaise. The organism reproduces in the kidney which can lead to kidney inflammation, kidney failure, liver failure and death.
With suburban encroachment on formerly wild areas, the chance for canine exposure to the main cause of lepto—standing water is increased. According to a recent study performed by Pfizer, the states in the area of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin have the highest number of recorded cases of leptospirosis in the United States.
To prevent the contraction of leptospirosis, pet owners should have their dogs vaccinated. There is a new leptospirosis vaccine. Because leptospirosis is so easy to contract, it is important that all dogs be vaccinated, even if they don’t go outside very much. The new Pfizer vaccine protects against 4 different strains of lepto. The former vaccine only protected against 2 strains. The previous vaccine was known to cause more reactions or side effects than the new vaccine. This is because the new vaccine is filtered differently than previously, therefore a protein that was a main cause of reactions is removed in the current manufacturing process.
In previous years, with the old vaccine, breeders might have encouraged the owner’s of certain breeds never to get the lepto vaccine because the breed was prone to reactions from vaccination. This is no longer the case. The Pfizer leptospirosis vaccine is proven safe for all breeds. There is always a risk with all vaccines, and there are always special circumstances, but a much smaller reaction rate has been recorded.
This is the time of year when everyone wants to be outside. The places where we recreate and live have changed, and with those changes, the risks for exposure to canine leptospirosis have increased. With advances in leptospirosis vaccinations, it makes sense for every dog to be vaccinated for a happy and healthy life.