Veterinarians Warn American Dog Owners Against Widespread Fatal Bacterial Disease

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Veterinarians are warning dog owners about Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that could become deadly. The veterinarians insist on immunization every year, a change from previous practices. 

What is Leptospirosis?


Leptospirosis is an infection caused by the Leptospira bacteria. Mice, rats, and other wildlife are the bacteria’s spreaders, and it affects other mammals, including humans. However, cats get infected rarely. 

The immunization 


ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine) updated its guidelines, and instead of every three years, vaccination against this deadly infection is now recommended yearly. In 2023, after ten years of research, ACVIM provided revised guidance. The new guidance also discusses vaccine protocols and public health implications, such as protecting veterinary staff from Leptospira infection.

What are the symptoms? 


The most common signs that a dog is infected are loss of appetite, vomiting, and lethargy. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and depression. However, only a veterinarian can give a diagnosis. Many dogs who survive Leptospirosis are left with chronic kidney or liver disease. 

Most common during spring and fall


The disease can be caught throughout the year, but dogs are more likely to get infected during spring and fall. In many cases, antibiotics can prevent the worst from happening, but if it progresses and harms the kidneys, kidney failure may require dialysis, which gives the body time to recover. 

Dialysis saved 16 out of 22 dogs


A recent Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine study found that dialysis saved 16 out of 22 dogs. The study also proved that recovery for dogs was less likely if multiple organs were affected by the disease. The report found that only a vaccine can prevent it, and while some dogs may feel blue for a couple of days after the vaccination, the reaction is not uncommon or dangerous. 

Dialysis is life-saving but expensive


While dialysis proved to be a good way to save around 75 percent of dogs infected by Leptospira bacteria, it is also quite expensive. Dogs will also be left with lifelong health effects that adversely affect their longevity. The average price of dialysis for the first two to three treatments ranges from $3,000 to $4,500.

That’s why yearly boosters are important


Vaccination and yearly boosters are vital to prevent a dog from having kidney failure. They need to be scheduled because if a dog gets a booster later, it is not considered vaccinated anymore and has to be restarted with the first two doses. Leptospirosis symptoms are noticed in numerous illnesses, which is why so many dogs end up with kidney failure. 

Other organs are also affected


Leptospirosis progresses rapidly and affects various organs. It targets the liver and kidneys, as well as the pancreas (causing pancreatitis), heart (resulting in cardiac arrhythmias), eyes (leading to uveitis, conjunctivitis, and retinal hemorrhage), and lungs (causing pulmonary hemorrhage). Additionally, Leptospirosis can lead to bleeding disorders.

How do dogs get infected? 


Dogs can become infected by direct contact with infected urine or contaminated water sources or by biting the skin of another infected animal. Another way to become infected is to be born by an infected mother. 

Every dog is at risk 


Every dog can get infected, though the increased risks are noticed among dogs exposed to infected wildlife or farm animals, contaminated water sources, or in dog parks and training facilities. That’s why vaccination is essential, and so are annual checkups.

More ways to protect your dog

Illustration. Depositphotos

To reduce the risk of your dog contracting Leptospirosis, minimize exposure to potential sources of Leptospira bacteria. This includes avoiding letting your dog drink from or swim in rivers, ponds, marshy areas, or slow-moving or stagnant water. Additionally, it’s essential to keep your dog away from farm animals and wild rodents, including carcasses.

Infected dogs and others

Illustration. Image credit: Depositphotos.

While an infected dog is unlikely to infect you and your family, there is still some risk. Infected dogs can also infect other pets in the home. To protect yourself, wash your hands and give antibiotics to your dog as prescribed by a veterinarian, avoid contact with their urine, and disinfect areas where your dog has urinated.


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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.