It was recently reported in the local news that the mild weather we’ve been having has led to a rise in the rat population in the city and its residential areas. This immediately made me think,
“Are my ‘city dogs’ at as great a risk of catching Leptospirosis as my ‘country dogs?’
What is Lepto?
Leptospirosis is a potentially deadly bacterial disease of dogs and other mammals (including humans) that is spread through the urine of infected animals. The organism quickly spreads through the bloodstream and settles in the liver or/and kidneys causing disease and sometimes failure.
How Are Dogs Infected?
The urine of infected mammals (ie: rodents, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, deer, and sometimes livestock) carries the bacteria into the soil and run-off water (ponds, ditches, puddles) and can survive there for weeks to months in warm weather. Though most people think that your dog has to drink the contaminated water in order to get infected, the bacteria can actually enter the body through broken skin or any mucous membrane (eyes, gums, nose). So in reality, your dog could simply walk or swim in contaminated water and get this potentially fatal disease. Plus, what is the first thing your dog does when it gets dirty and wet? Licks himself clean!!
Do We Have To Worry About Lepto In The Maritimes?
In the past 10 years there have been over 100 confirmed (of the samples sent to the AVC for testing) cases of leptospirosis in NB, NS, NFLD, and PEI.
What I used to tell my clients is that, certain dogs are more at risk than others: hunting or retrieving dogs, dogs who spend a lot of time in the wilderness, dogs who live in rural areas, dogs with families who camp/hike a lot, dogs who can’t resist jumping in or drinking from any pond or puddles, ect. But now with the rise in the rodent population in residential Moncton and this balmy weather we’ve been having, I would have to say that any dog could be at risk.
How Can I Prevent Lepto?
Be aware of environments where lepto is most likely to be found (stagnant water like ditched, puddles, and ponds; wetlands, especially if downstream from a farm) and avoid them with your dog. If you cannot avoid these areas, vaccinate your dog. This requires and initial 2 shots, 1 month apart, and then continuing the vaccine each year. You absolutely cannot be late for this vaccine; if so, you must start over with the 2 needle series.
Please remember that lepto is a disease that can affect humans just as readily as dogs. If you or your veterinarian suspects your dog may have leptospirosis, use the utmost caution (i.e.: rubber or latex gloves) when cleaning up any areas the dog may have soiled. This organism is readily killed by most household disinfectants or a dilute (1:16) bleach solution.
For more information on this disease, check out my blog post from last summer: