My parents live in a rural town in Northwestern Ohio. They called me up one day to ask me why their veterinarian was recommending a Leptospirosis vaccination and why in the world they need to pay for another vaccination for their dogs. Well, I told them, this is an important one.

What is Leptospirosis and why is it important?
Leptospirosis is caused by infection with a bacteria. There are many serovars of this bacteria that can cause a dog to get very sick. The vaccine covers against the most common types. This bacterial infection mostly affects dogs but has infected a few cats. Cats seem to be more resistant to the bacterial infection and currently there is not a vaccination available for cats.

Leptospirosis is very important because it is one of the few diseases that is zoonotic or has the potential to be passed to humans. It is imperative to get treatment right away if your pet is showing signs of the infection.

My dogs barely go outside, why do they need vaccinated?
The leptospiral organism is passed through urine. So any infected animal that has the leptospirosis infection (including wild animals like raccoons, opossums, etc.) that urinates around where your dog walks, can pass it on to your pet. The organism also loves warm, wet environments. Imagine the puddles, runoff, or flooding that can occur in your area during certain times of the year. Those areas of standing water or even water on the grass can harbor the leptospirosis bacteria. If your dog walks through that water then comes home and licks his/her paws, he/she can become infected with the bacteria.

What are the signs?
Signs may not start to show until 1-2 weeks after infection. This infection mainly targets the kidneys and liver but can also affect the lungs and brain and cause bleeding abnormalities. Some of the main signs include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, dehydration, increased thirst and/or urinations, coughing, trouble breathing, and bruising.

How is the Leptospirosis disease diagnosed and treated?
Leptospirosis is diagnosed using blood tests, a urinalysis, and often radiographs. Oftentimes, the confirmatory Leptospirosis test needs to be sent to an outside laboratory. Treatment includes supportive care for gastrointestinal signs, kidney or liver failure, and aggressive antibiotics. Hospitalization is almost always recommended. Since the bacteria is passed through the urine and can be spread to humans, a urinary catheter is typically recommended to minimize humane and other pet exposure. When the pet is released, owners should also take precaution to walk them in a remote area of the neighborhood or in a dry spot in their own back yard.

How can it be prevented?
Vaccination is key! It is almost impossible to prevent environmental exposure since the bacteria can be anywhere. Vaccination is the only way to greatly decrease the risk of infection. Your pet will need an initial vaccination then a booster in 3-4 weeks. Your pet will need a yearly booster to make sure they are protected.