You might have heard a lot in the news lately about dogs getting sick and dying from what’s known as toxic blue-green algae. Many people think it’s the same as the bacteria leptospirosis but though it’s just as dangerous, the two conditions are hugely different.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis bacteria is transmitted through urine, typically from wild animals. The two most common ways your dog can get infected are if he drinks contaminated water or licks his fur after a swim. The bacteria then travels to the kidneys and liver where it can cause serious harm and, sometimes, death.
While some cats have been infected, dogs are most commonly affected, probably because they are more prone to drink or swim in rivers, lakes, and streams contaminated with the bacteria.
The good news is there is a vaccine that has shown some success and, if your dog is infected, he can be treated with antibiotics.
Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis
The condition can be difficult to detect because the clinical signs are so often nonspecific. Some dogs have no visible symptoms at all. Common clinical signs that have been reported in dogs include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Refusal to eat and abdominal pain
- Severe weakness and depression
- Stiffness and acute muscle pain
- Inability to have puppies
For reasons not yet understood, dogs six months and younger tend to be more seriously affected than older ones.
Is Leptospirosis Preventable?
The best prevention is cutting off your dog’s access to contaminated water. You can also sanitize his environment by eliminating leftover food scraps that might attract rats, raccoons, feral cats, or other wild animals. Most dogs love sticking their paws in and drinking water from lakes, puddles, and ponds, so it can be a challenge getting them to change their behavior. Some vets recommend carrying a bottle of clean water with you to give your dog a drink when he’s thirsty.
Antibiotics and supportive care are the standard treatment. The chances for recovery are good when the condition is treated early and aggressively, though some dogs have permanent residual liver or kidney damage. The available vaccines do not always prevent infection, but they do tend to make the disease much milder if infection occurs.
Leptospirosis is contagious to humans so if your dog is infected, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself and your family.
- Consistently give your dog the antibiotics prescribed by your vet.
- Avoid contact with your dog’s urine. If an accident occurs in the home, quickly clean the area with a disinfectant and don’t forget to wear gloves.
- Wash your hands after handling your pet.
Finally, while walking your dog encourage him or her to urinate away from any standing water so other animals and people are not affected.
Your dog brings a lot of love and joy to your life, so you want to make sure he’s healthy and well-taken care of. If you think your dog might have leptospirosis, contact your vet immediately. He or she can perform tests to determine whether your pup has the disease and get them back on track to good health.