David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
Whether dogs take a sip from a water puddle, take a dip in the creek, or carry the carcass of who knows what from who knows where, all of these dog-favoriting activities have one thing in common---they each present risk for contracting Leptospira bacteria. Whether a ranch dog, hunting dog or a lap dog, all dogs deserve to be protected against leptospirosis.

“Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that exists across the world, and we see it quite a bit,” said Lara Sypniewski, DVM, DABVP, CVA, CCRP Patricia Henthorne Clinical Professor of Small Animal Medicine at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Found worldwide, leptospirosis disease (also known as lepto) is caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria, which are found in contaminated soil and water. Urine from infected wildlife serves as the primary source of infection, permeating the environment and in turn, infecting animals and even humans---leptospirosis disease is zoonotic, meaning that it is transferrable to humans.

Why is protection against leptospirosis disease in dogs also critical to human health?

The bacteria Leptospira can pose great risk to humans, as well as animals. As many as 150 cases in humans are reported annually in the United States, often occurring after heavy rainfall and flooding or within living conditions with sanitation concerns, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Leptospirosis in humans can present “a devastating side effect,” cautions Dr. Sypniewski. Leptospirosis during pregnancy can cause fetal complications, including fetal death. Other symptoms can range from the mild, such as fever and headache, to the severe such as jaundice, renal failure and hemorrhage, with fatality rates reaching 50%, reports the CDC. “It’s a very scary disease and nasty bacteria,” Dr. Sypniewski said.

How are dogs infected by the disease?

Lepto in dogs is far more commonly seen than lepto in cats. And while dogs are often nose-to-the-ground, sniffing out their next adventure, they are certainly not actively seeking potentially harmful Leptospira bacteria; however, they can unfortunately contract Leptospira bacteria through a number of everyday activities, like:

Direct contact from contaminated water, soil, food or bedding to: a pet’s mucous membranes (in the mouth, eyes and nose), skin with an open wound (even the most minor scrape), or water-softened skin

Digesting carcasses or tissues of infected animals

A bite from an infected animal

Breeding, as the disease can be passed through the placenta to puppies

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