Cases of TN Leptospirosis on the rise in Dogs
Homer, a German shorthaired pointer, gets an exam from Dr. Ron Bernhard, left, and veterinary technician Jamie Headley, at Ringtown Valley Vet Hospital. Homer was vaccinated to protect him from Leptospirosis.. LISA PRICE/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Wyatt’s owners were away on vacation. At three years old, the wirehaired pointing griffon was in the peak of condition, muscles solid and coat lustrous from his life on the farm.
The neighbors had been enlisted as dog sitters. During their visits they did note that Wyatt wasn’t eating much food, although he’d routinely drained his water dish. They attributed that as just a sign that he was missing his owners.
That’s the thing with Leptospirosis. It’s sneaky, and fast. In just 48 hours, Wyatt’s condition worsened greatly; he seemed to be having trouble breathing and was panting without relief. The pet sitters got him to the veterinarian, but by that time Wyatt needed dialysis and oxygen support.
Wyatt didn’t survive. That young dog, an awesome hunting companion, gentle to all he encountered, missed out on the rest of his life.
What is Leptospirosis? And why is the disease on the rise not only in Pennsylvania, but across the United States?
Part of the answer lies in the protocol for vaccinations for dogs. Years ago, the annual booster shot dogs got from the veterinarian was called DA2PPvL. The initials stand for distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvo virus and Leptospirosis. Then vaccine companies developed the product into a booster shot that is good for three years – but that’s DA2PPv. The three-year booster shot doesn’t include the leptospirosis booster; and many dog owners are neglecting the lepto shot, and just doing the three-year boosters of DA2PPv and rabies.
But anywhere you have wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, rats, mice and opossums, leptospirosis can be spread into the environment through their urine. In order for a dog to get it, they must have contact with an infected animal’s urine which enters the body through open cuts, scrapes, skin wounds or splashes onto their mucous membranes (eyes, open mouth). Dogs most often get lepto by drinking out of stagnant water sources, such as puddles.
And we all know how impossible it is to keep a dog from drinking out of a puddle. It’s not that the wild animal has urinated into the puddle. Leptospira can survive in the environment for many months. Heavy rains and flooding can wash the Leptospira bacteria into a water source, such as puddles, ponds, rivers and lakes. (Humans can get it too; there have been outbreaks following athletic competitions where competitors swim in open water.)
“There can be outbreaks after periods of heavy rain and there can be ‘hot spots’ of leptospirosis infection,” said Jamie Headley, Ringtown Valley Vet Hospital, Ringtown. “It’s all about protection, getting the annual Lepto booster shot to prevent your dog from getting it.”
Ringtown Valley veterinarian Dr. Ron Bernhard said that the Lepto vaccination is recommended for all dogs.
“By the time they’re showing signs of sickness, they’re really sick,” Bernhard said. “You have to begin a course of the correct antibiotics immediately, and even so most dogs will need to be kept at the vet, with intravenous fluids, other medications and very careful monitoring.”
Signs of Leptospirosis include: vomiting, fatigue, weakness, increased drinking, reduced or no appetite, muscle tenderness and pain, difficulty breathing, excessive panting, nose bleeds, jaundice, signs of stiffness and disorientation. How to avoid all of that?
“Get the shot,” Dr. Bernhard said. “The vaccine is effective and strongly advised for all dogs as part of their annual preventative care.”