Leptospirosis is Still a Problem for Dogs and People

The Centers for Disease Control eliminated Leptospirosis from the “reportable human diseases” list, there is, however, still significant concern about this zoonotic disease. Our pets are at risk of lepto as well, however, many owners are afraid to vaccinate for the illness. What’s the true story and just how can we continue to keep our pets and families safe?

Mary Fleming always followed the advice of her veterinarian when it came to her miniature poodle, Mitsie. Regular examinations, heartworm preventive and even a good diet helped keep Mitsie active and healthy. Thinking that Mitsie was safe, Mary did not opt for a Leptospirosis vaccine for her dog. Unfortunately, Mitsie got very sick not long after visiting her city’s dog park and needed intensive care and hospitalization. Thankfully, her veterinarian was there to help her recover and explain how moist soil or puddles at the park actually put Mitsie at risk!

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease- a disease that can be passed between animals and people. It is spread by spirochete (spiral-shaped) bacteria in the urine of infected rodents, wildlife, and pets. There are more than 200 different strains of lepto and certain strains appear to prefer certain hosts, like dogs, pigs, raccoons or even rats.

The leptospira organisms enter the body through mucous membranes or through abrasions on the skin. People and animals can become infected from direct exposure to infected urine, but also through contaminated environment, such as water or damp soil.

People and pets are also exposed to Lepto while camping or participating in outdoor recreational activities. Drinking or swimming in water that is infected with Lepto is the most common exposure, but wet soil can be contaminated as well. And, as Mitsie’s case illustrates, a city environment will not always provide protection against this serious disease.

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The signs of Leptospirosis can mimic many other diseases and illnesses. The first signs in dogs are often depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, and generalized pain. Affected dogs may also drink water and urinate excessively and have swollen, red, and painful eyes. Because these signs are common to other diseases and non-specific, owners may try to treat their pets at home for such problems as an upset stomach or arthritis.

This “wait and see” response delays proper diagnosis and treatment for the dog, as well as increasing the owner’s exposure to the disease. If caught early, treatment is usually effective and the survival rate is good. However, time is of the essence. A mere three or four day delay can lead to irreversible kidney failure.

Vaccines are available but many pet owners, like Mary above, have either experienced or heard about adverse reactions associated with these vaccines. In the past, Leptospirosis vaccines were generally created using the whole bacterial organism. In many cases, when a whole bacterium is used, the likelihood of a “vaccine reaction” increases. Thankfully, newer vaccines have been developed that reduce this possibility by using specific Leptospirosis proteins instead of the whole organism.

A study reviewing vaccine reactions in more than one million dogs vaccinated found that reactions occur about 13 times for every 10,000 vaccines given. More importantly, the lepto vaccine was no more likely to cause a reaction than any other vaccine.

So, if the vaccine appears to be safe and the disease deadly, shouldn’t all dog owners vaccinate their pets?

Unfortunately, that question is difficult to fully answer. Because there are so many Leptospirosis strains, no one vaccine will cover every possible exposure a pet might have. At present, vaccines are available that protect against four of the common strains infecting dogs. In addition, the vaccine will prevent clinical disease, but may not stop the pet from shedding bacteria in his urine. This makes the pet a threat to other animals, especially those who are not vaccinated. And, as mentioned above, humans are at risk as well.

Worldwide, Leptospirosis is the most widespread zoonotic disease. Cases occur routinely in tropical countries, but increases have been seen in Europe and North America as well. Floods and hurricanes are instrumental in spreading this illness and coordinated efforts to rescue and re-home pets from these disasters might actually transplant lepto into new areas.

Protecting your pet from Leptospirosis is a complex situation. Use your veterinarian as a resource to help assess your pet’s risk factors as well as the benefits and hazards of vaccination. Other important steps that might minimize your pet’s exposure to this disease include removing animal pests, such as rodents and draining areas of standing water.

Peanut Butter Recall Affects Pets Too!

Peanut Butter has grabbed the spotlight in the latest Salmonella recall and some of those peanut butter treats can also affect our pets.  Besides making your pet sick, pets infected with Salmonella can pass the bacteria back to humans and humans can pass it back to our pets. So, what exactly is Salmonella?

Salmonella are a type of bacteria that are common throughout the world. The classification is gram negative, anaerobic bacteria similar to E.Coli and other bacteria found in fecal material. Humans and animal become infected with the bacteria through ingestion of contaminated food or water, or through contact with an infected host. Exotic animals such as turtles, lizards and other animals, can also harbor Salmonella as well as the water the turtle lives in. Salmonella is considered a Zoonotic disease because it can pass from humans to animals and animals to humans.

All species of domestic animals are susceptible to Salmonella, although dogs and cats seldom develop disease.  In  pets, Salmonella can cause acute diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting. In younger or debilitated pets, the symptoms may be more severe, and some pets can harbor the bacteria for months without becoming ill. Salmonella has been know to cause conjunctivitis (an eye infection) in cats, but this is rare.

Salmonella bacteria are susceptible to many disinfectants, including dilute bleach and other household cleaning agents. Heat also kills Salmonella, so most processed dog food that is heat treated, kills the bacteria. Raw dog food diets have been shown to also harbor the bacteria. In these cases, the dog on a raw food diet may not show any signs of illness, but in fact may be harboring the bacteria and then pass it back to humans. Raw eggs also can harbor Salmonella. I, and many veterinarians, do not recommend feeding raw food, including eggs, to your pets for this reason.

Most humans and pets recover from a Salmonella infection without treatment after a short 4-7 day illness classically characterized by diarrhea. In rare cases, the diarrhea can become severe enough to result in dehydration and hospitalization. The very young, the elderly and the immune compromised are the most susceptible.

What can your do to avoid Salmonellosis?

  • Cook poultry, ground beef and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw milk. This also includes feeding raw foods to your pet.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs at a restaurant, don’t be shy, ask your server to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking. Also, you may ask for a fresh jar of dipping salsa at your favorite bar or Mexican cantina.
  • Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry. Do not use the same cutting board to cut meat, and then cut the vegetables  for your salad without first bleaching or disinfecting. Bacteria can also hide in the cuts of your cutting board and then contaminate your food.
  • Be especially diligent when preparing food for infants, the elderly or the immune compromised.
  • Wash hands after handling, turtles, reptiles, birds, baby chicks or after contact with pet feces.
  • Don’t work with raw meat or poultry and an infant at the same time ( feeding or changing a diaper)
  • Wash hands after handling dog or cat treats, especially teach children to wash hands after feeding their pet or playing with their pet.
  • Carry a hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes in your purse or car for those times when there is no running water.
  • You don’t have to be a “Monk” or OCD about cleaning, but a due course of diligence is warranted when handling raw or undercooked meats and foods or playing with pets.

For further information, I have included a list of  Resources:

Carolina Prime
Carolina Prime Pet
Grreat Choice
Happy Tails
Healthy-hide Deli-wrap
Salix
Shoppers Valu

Complete Peanut Butter Recall List http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm#PetFood

CDC Salmonella Report http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/salmonellosis_gi.html

Download Salmonella pdf report