Leptospirosis and Pets: A Real Risk to Pets and People

March 20, 2017, by Community Pet Hospital

There are many pros when it comes to living in Oregon, and depending on who you are, our climate may or may not be one of them. The rain we see in this area is a highlight to some, but there is no doubt that it brings its own set of challenges.

One thing that our wet climate brings to the forefront is an increased risk of certain diseases. The CDC has recently identified our area as a hotbed for the disease leptospirosis, which affects pets and people. Community Pet Hospital thinks it is very important for our clients to understand this disease and what can be done to keep leptospirosis and pets from intermingling.

An Intro to Leptospirosis and Pets

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the spiral-shaped organism Leptospira interrogans. The bacteria gains access to the pet’s bloodstream by entering through the skin or mucous membranes.

Leptospirosis is typically transmitted through the urine of infected wildlife and can live in standing water and contaminated soil. In particular, damp areas, such as those we are all too familiar with in Oregon, are the prime locations to find this organism.

When a pet is infected with leptospirosis, the bacteria makes its way through the body, settling in the liver and/or kidneys. The immune system begins to work hard in order to eliminate the bacteria from the body, but it may not be effective or may not be able to do so before permanent organ damage occurs. Symptoms may vary, but most pets infected with leptospirosis show signs, including:

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Dehydration
  • Digestive upset
  • Jaundice
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

If not treated, pets infected with leptospirosis can die, typically due to kidney or liver failure. Even if they do recover, infected animals may continue to shed the organism in their urine, becoming a potential source of infection to their human owners. It is estimated that approximately 50% of people affected by leptospirosis are infected by their pets.

Lepto Prevention

Leptospirosis is bad news whether you are human or canine. Fortunately, though, you are not simply left to fate as an Oregon resident. Vaccinating your pet against leptospirosis is an important step to helping prevent this serious disease.

The goal of vaccination is to help the immune system recognize a disease so that it can more effectively fight it off. There are several different subtypes of the Leptospira bacteria, called serovars. We currently are able to vaccinate against the four most common serovars. This is great, but it means that pets who have been vaccinated can still contract leptospirosis.

All hope is not lost, however, as vaccinated pets tend to have less serious symptoms. This may be due to the fact that vaccination against one of the serovars likely provides some cross-protection against other serovars. With the serious nature of this disease and its zoonotic potential (the ability to cross to humans), that is saying a lot.

At our hospital, we think it is very important to protect at-risk pets. Please discuss leptospirosis vaccination with us at your next wellness visit, and don’t hesitate to call if you have questions. Leptospirosis is a serious disease, but together we can work to minimize the risk.

Updates Regarding COVID-19

In light of recent guidance from state officials regarding COVID-19, we want to reassure you that Community Pet Hospital is here to serve you and your pets.

Learn More