Leptospirosis – a real threat in Sydney’s suburbs?

Dog swimming in pond

You might think of Leptospirosis as a disease of dairy cows, but did you know that this disease poses a real threat to dogs, both working farm dogs and urban pet dogs?! Recent cases where dogs have died from this disease in Sydney’s suburbs are a timely reminder for you as a pet owner to talk to us about the need for Leptospirosis vaccination for your dog.

 

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can affect both animals and people. The bacteria live in the kidneys of infected animals and is spread in their urine, and these bacteria can live in puddles and water for months. People and animals can catch the infection if contaminated water contacts their eyes, nose, mouth or cuts in the skin.

Some strains of Leptospirosis occur in a farming setting where cattle and pigs may carry the disease. Another strain likely to infect dogs in Australia and New Zealand is Leptospira interrogans serovar copenhageni, which is carried and spread by vermin such as rats.

The risk of your dog getting Leptospirosis varies with season, rainfall, flooding, movement of vermin and geographic area. For example, the disease is more commonly seen in Queensland, Australia and the North Island of New Zealand, yet sporadic cases may occur in other areas such as urban Sydney or the South Island of New Zealand.

 

What symptoms do infected dogs show?

A dog infected with leptospirosis becomes weak and lethargic, they go off their food and may even vomit. Sometimes you might notice their eyes or gums look yellow. Leptospirosis causes severe inflammation of many organs in the body, and blood tests may show that the kidneys and liver are failing. The infection can mimic many other diseases in the early stages, and the severity can range from a mild, barely detectable illness to severe or even fatal organ shutdown.

 

How is dog Leptospirosis diagnosed and treated?

Your vet will use a combination of the symptoms shown by the dog, general blood tests, and an assessment of risk factors such as exposure to rats or stagnant water to suggest a diagnosis of Leptospirosis is possible. Then specific tests are used to confirm if the animal is infected with Leptospirosis. This may include tests to detect the bacterial DNA in blood or urine (PCR), or tests to measure the dog’s immune system response (MAT or RIM tests). Diagnosing Leptospirosis can be tricky, sometimes tests need to be repeated, or further tests for different strains may need to be done.

Treatment involves long courses of specific antibiotics, and often the animal is hospitalised in isolation on an intravenous (i.v.). drip. Severe cases may need blood transfusions or other intensive care treatments.

 

Can I catch leptospirosis from my dog?

Humans can get very sick from leptospirosis – the CSIRO estimates more than 200 people are infected every year in Australia, however the disease is usually contracted from contact with farm animals, not dogs.

Having said that, if you are caring for a dog that might be sick from this disease it is important to call us for advice as soon as possible. Wear gloves when handling the dog and take every care not to allow urine splashes to contact your eyes, nose, or mouth, and cover any cuts.

 

How can I stop my dog getting infected with Leptospirosis?

This illness is contracted by contacting contaminated water, so it is very important to stop your dog from drinking from puddles or swimming in stagnant water. Wetter seasons and surface flooding are also associated with the disease – it is important to keep your dog high and dry during these times!

Movement of rats due to food supply or construction projects can mean the disease can be seen in new areas – rodent control is also very important in preventing infection.

There are vaccinations available to stop your dog getting sick from this serious disease. Deciding what vaccines your dog needs is best discussed with your veterinarian – give us a call today to discuss this with us or raise it at your next annual health check visit. We are here to give you all the information you need to keep your fur family happy and healthy!

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