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What is Lepto, Anyway?

I’m sure most of you have heard about the ‘new’ mystery disease in dogs going around the Valley, and you might be getting a little worried about it. I wanted to take some time to talk about what it is, why it is currently a problem, what to look out for in your pets, and what we need to do about it.

First, what is this disease? It’s called Leptospirosis, or Lepto for short. It is caused by a type of bacterium that can be found in the urinary tract of infected animals such as rodents or livestock, but it can survive in moist areas (such as ponds) for weeks or months. The average dog contracts the disease by playing in or drinking contaminated water. Now, as a resident of the Valley of the Sun, you are starting to realize why we don’t normally have a big problem with it here. That very dry environment we often resent helps to keep this type of bacteria from setting up shop as we don’t usually have a lot of standing water in which it can be harbored. However, we’ve had more rain than normal these past few months and more cases than normal are being diagnosed in local dogs. Additionally, there is a risk to owners that care for infected pets as well.

So, what do you look for? If your pet is happy, healthy and doing well, then great! Also, this is a very rare disease in cats. In dogs, some of the more common signs that accompany Lepto infection can be rather non-specific. Lethargy, not eating, drinking more water than normal, vomiting, changes in urinary habits (urinating more or less), and jaundice can all be signs of infection but can also be signs of many other problems!

The good news is that this is not a new disease, there are tests available, and treatment can be effective. There is even a vaccine. Because we vaccinate based on risk and lifestyle, and there is not normally a large reservoir of infection in the Phoenix area, most dogs are not at routine risk and have not been vaccinated. If your pet’s lifestyle may put them at higher risk (traveling to areas with routine risk of infection, visiting dog parks, or boarding) give us a call to talk about if the vaccination is recommended. If your dog has never been vaccinated previously, they will need two separate shots of the vaccination spaced apart by about 4 weeks. As with any vaccine, weighing the possible risks versus possible benefits will help us to decide if this is the right choice for you and your pets.

Photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Infection; Janice Haney Carr, 1998.

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