Leptospirosis is a potentially nasty bacterial infection that can cause severe kidney disease (among other things) and is acquired from the environment, in cool damp areas that are contaminated with urine from infected reservoir hosts (e.g. rats, raccoons, other wildlife). It can also potentially be transmitted to people through contact with urine from an infected dog.
We’ve called leptospirosis a “re-emerging disease” in dogs in North America for probably 10-15 years. In reality, it’s past the “re-emerging” point and is a well “re-established” disease in many areas. However, it’s been a strange fall for lepto. I’ve gotten more emails and calls about cases in the past few months than ever before, including some places where very high rates of disease are being found. Outbreaks appear to be underway in a few different areas, including a large ongoing problem with lepto in Nova Scotia and what seems to be a fairly high incidence in parts of Ontario. Getting a clear picture is tough because it’s not a reportable disease, and diagnosis can be challenging. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that we’re seeing more cases than normal.
Avoiding lepto exposure is tough, since it can be found in lots of different environments. Staying away from areas densely populated by raccoons and rats isn’t a bad idea, but identifying those is hard, and given the proliferation of raccoons in many urban areas, it’s a challenge.
What can pet owners do?
- Vaccinate your dog. Vaccination isn’t a guarantee but it will greatly reduce the risk of disease.
What can veterinarians do?
- Encourage vaccination.
- Think about lepto when a sick dog comes in, since the quicker it’s diagnosed (or suspected) the better the prognosis. Also, considering lepto early on helps with implementation of infection control practices to reduce the risk of transmission to people. The Ontario Animal Health Network (OAHN) has a great infographic about infection control precautions for managing suspected lepto patients in the clinic.
- More information about leptospirosis can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.