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This morning, I opened the website for the local news and my eyebrows furrowed in a worried upside down V. “Why” you ask? Thanks to the recent dramatic volumes of rain–which we needed– there has been a reported flourishing of cases of Leptospirosis in pets of the SF bay area — which we don’t!

Leptospirosis is a type of spirochete (SPY-ro-keet). This is a spiral-shape bacterium, often with a curly-cue conformation. For you musically-inclined folks, it sometimes likes to take the shape of a base clef.

Dogs infected with this bacterium quickly become gravely ill with annoyingly non-specific signs: fever, joint pain, malaise, decreased appetite, lethargy, excessive thirst a week after an episode of unexplained fever. They can also have blood clotting issues (dots of red on the gums, defecating blood). The suffering dog can quickly become dehydrated, end up with kidney or liver failure depending on the location of the spirochetes, and die.

How do they get it, you ask? –Bite wounds or open wounds exposed to infected urine/contaminated water, placental transfer, ingestion of infected tissue, or consumption of water or urine carrying the bacterium (hence the rising incidence when we have puddles around, from which dogs like to drink). It is also associated with alkaline soil in rural and suburban areas. Furthermore, indirect contact with contaminated water, soil, bedding or food can also lead to infection.

The natural carriers of this bacterium can often live with it quite well, and shed the organism without clinical signs (opossum, rat, raccoon, armadillo, bobcat, fox, hedgehog, mouse, muskrat, shrew, squirrel, weasel, raccoon, skunk, vole, civet, deer, sea lion)… but it is the non-natural host that is infected that become gravely ill (e.g. humans, dogs).

There are over 200 serovars (sub types of the bacterium, if you will), and there is a vaccine, but it does not cover all the possible serovars to which a dog may get exposed.

There are various blood tests with ultrasound imaging techniques that can be used to confirm diagnosis. Unfortunately, many dogs could pass away while awaiting the blood test results, so it is best to treat dogs with high risk of exposure and clinical signs for this “just in case” while awaiting confirmation.

Treatment involves isolation due to the risk of spread to people, and hospitalization for antibiotics, IV fluids, and other supportive care.

Sadly, Fido might not make it without diagnosis and appropriate treatment this disease. Fortunately, the prognosis is good (80% survival) if treated in time.

If your dog is ill, don’t wait-bring him or her in for an appointment today, and be sure to let your vet know if he’s been drinking from puddles, eating dead rodents, had unexplained fever, or changes in thirst. The chances are good that your dog doesn’t have Lepto, but as they say, it’s good to remember zebras, not just horses, when you hear hooves in the distance.

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