The bacteria that cause Leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected animals and can survive in stagnant water and soil for months. “Lepto” as it is referred to, was common it the late 1970’s and dropped off in the 1980’s and 1990’s but in recent years it seems to be on the increase in many areas of the Fraser Valley. The big carriers were raccoons, opossums and skunks but now it is also commonly seen in rats and squirrels. The bacteria can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth and skin wounds that come in direct contact with urine or contaminated water and soil. The bacteria can cause dogs to become quite ill with fever, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, and muscle pain as well as cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys.
Lepto can also be quite contagious to people. There have been a number of warning signs near beaches in parts of Hawaii with many confirmed cases of leptospirosis in humans.
In the Fraser Valley there have been pockets of infection in many communities from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Coquitlam, Burnaby and Vancouver. With the recent increase in food waste recycling and composting there are certainly increased problems with rats and mice in many neighbourhoods so there is a much greater chance of dogs encountering Lepto.
To prevent Leptospirosis in pets it is important to try to control rodent problems. Vaccinations that are very safe and effective have been available for some time, however, we have not always vaccinated most dogs with it. This trend is changing as we learn that the risks of exposure to dogs and humans may be greater than we had thought in the past.
Always be sure to wear gloves, wash hands and avoid exposure to urine, blood and organs from any rodents or potentially infected animals. Cleaning contaminated areas with a bleach solution made of 1 part bleach and 10 parts water will effectively kill Lepto.
Once diagnosed, infected dogs can be effectively treated with antibiotics and can make a full recovery if caught early. Unfortunately, your pet can end up with organ damage if left untreated too long.
If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors in areas frequented by rodents especially rats, squirrels and raccoons you should make sure they receive annual vaccinations for leptospirosis from your veterinarian