leptospiraLeptospirosis is an infection caused by the Leptospira bacteria, a microbe found in livestock and wildlife. In a city setting, it is most commonly carried by rats and raccoons, but can also infect a wide range of mammals common to the Portland area. In a temperate climate like ours, it is most prevalent in late summer and early fall months, but can be found year-round. It is present in the urine of infected animals and thus also in any areas of stagnant water (such as ponds, puddles, or even moist soil) into which they have urinated. The bacteria can then infect a new host through contact with open wounds or mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, nose, and mouth). It can also be transmitted directly from one pet to another, especially in urban settings where dogs encounter one another often.

Leptospirosis was widely publicized in the Fall of 2008, when there was a sharp increase in the number of California sea lions found dead along the Oregon coast. Later analysis showed that they had died as the result of a widespread outbreak of leptospirosis among their species, and beach-goers were cautioned against allowing their dogs to go near the animals, or even to walk on damp oceanside sand, without first being vaccinated. Since then, Oregon veterinarians have begun encouraging lepto vaccines as part of all dogs’ regular yearly vaccination regimens.

Since cats seem to be resistant to Leptospira infection, we usually talk about it as exclusively a canine disease. But it’s worth noting that leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease–that is, it can infect humans as well. Though very rare as a human infection in America, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes leptospirosis as a serious and potentially life-threatening disease for people. For this reason, it’s important to limit the risk of human exposure to the bacteria, and one of the best ways to do this is through diligent vaccination protocols for dogs.

Common symptoms of dogs infected with leptospirosis are very similar to flu-like symptoms (fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration among them), and are thus difficult for veterinarians to diagnose. Sometimes, by the time a lepto diagnosis has been reached, it’s only after extensive testing has ruled out other diseases, costing significant amounts of time for an ailing pet and money for its owner. For this reason, Linwood Animal Clinic recommends that all of its canine patients receive leptospirosis vaccines, so we can avoid the frustration and stress caused by a potentially arduous diagnosis and treatment process.

The vaccination is initially given in a two-shot series: the patient receives a thorough examination to make sure it’s in good health and is injected with a vaccine containing several strains of leptospirosis bacteria. Then, three to five weeks later, another brief exam (to ensure continued health) is followed by a second injection, which solidifies the patient’s resistance to the disease.

If you have any questions about lepto or are interested in getting your dog vaccinated, please call us at Linwood Animal Clinic at 503-774-3363.

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