A growing threat to dogs and their owners has veterinarians sounding the alert.

Leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease that can transfer from animals to humans, is being found in a growing number of dogs across the United States. Researchers with The Veterinary Journal found that, in parts of Indiana, 1 in 3 dogs test positive for the disease. The bacteria is found in the urine of animals like raccoons, opossums and rats, which means your pet doesn’t need to come in direct contact with a wild animal to pick it up.  It’s important to recognize and treat leptospirosis quickly so you can keep your home safe from the disease. Here’s what you should know.

Facts about leptospirosis

Wild animals transmit the disease to pets and pets can spread the bacteria to their owners. The disease, when quickly identified and treated, usually doesn’t result in severe damage to pets or humans, but it does have the potential, if missed, to become deadly.  Rates of dogs getting infected with the bacteria have increased steadily in the last few decades. An article published in 2017 in The Veterinary Journal found that the rate of infection in dogs increased 1.2 cases per 100,000 dogs per year from 1983 to 1998.  In rare cases in people, “leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How pets and people contract the disease

Unfortunately, it’s not only when dogs find and kill opossums or rats that they have the potential to get infected with leptospirosis. Bacteria may enter their bodies simply through contact with mud.  “Infection occurs through contact between the skin (particularly skin abrasions) or mucous membranes and water, wet soil or vegetation contaminated by the urine of infected animals,” according to the World Health Organization.  Dogs contract the disease more and spread the disease to their owners more often than other types of pets. In Indiana, almost a third of leptospirosis cases in 2012 involved dogs contracting the disease, according to findings from the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.

Leptospirosis warning signs

Because dogs are more likely to get leptospirosis, be sure to keep a careful eye on your canine companions for signs of nausea, depression, coughing and loss of appetite. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to detect an infection in cats, says the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.

If a person contracts the disease, they will typically develop a fever (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit), chills and sweating, headache, eye redness (of conjunctiva), nausea and diarrhea and muscle cramps in the calf area, as included on a list of common symptoms on MedScape.  Of course, if you know your pet has leptospirosis, visit your doctor at the first sign of symptoms or go to the emergency room.  Rarely, the condition progresses into the more serious Weil’s disease, characterized by people suffering hemolytic anemia, jaundice, hemorrhagic manifestations and other complications, including hepatorenal failure, according to the World Health Organization.

Treatment options

As soon as you suspect your dog or even livestock is host to the bacteria (especially if they’ve been in contact with rats), it’s time to take them to a veterinary clinic for more tests.  For pets, the most common treatment regimen involves rounds of antibiotics. The sooner they’re diagnosed, the less likely they are to suffer organ damage or need dialysis or rehydration therapy, according to the CDC.  Humans will get a similar course of treatment, continues the CDC, with antibiotics lasting a week in the average case, or intravenous antibiotics in more serious situations.

Getting a diagnosis

If you’re worried your pet has leptospirosis, the longer you wait to take them to see a professional, the more danger you’re putting your pets, yourself and your family in. You can also prevent your pet from contracting this dangerous disease with a simple vaccination at an animal clinic.  Your dog is at risk, is he or she protected? Contact the veterinary professionals at Glasgo Memorial Veterinary Hospital today to discuss your pet’s risk of catching leptospirosis and what you can do to protect your pet and yourself.

See Dr. Glasgo’s Interview on WTHR – Click Here