Living in New York City, we must consider our dogs’ environment and how it can affect their well being. There is a potential for infectious disease transmission of Leptospirosis in densely populated areas among people, dogs, and wildlife. You may have heard recently about the disease called Leptospirosis on the news. It is a bacterial disease carried by rodents and other small mammals, and it can be passed it along to other species, such as people or dogs. Dogs sniff and scavenge in some of the same corners, crevices, puddles, sewers, grassy parks, and trash bags that rats do. If you are a hiker, you may recall hearing about contracting Leptospirosis if you drink or accidentally swallow untreated stream water. However, Leptospirosis which is spread by the ubiquitous Norway Rat, is also prevalent in urban areas such as New York City. And dogs, being as nosy as they are, (and lower to the ground) are more likely to pick it up.
So, you wonder how a dog may become infected? When walking through a puddle contaminated with rat urine, the bacteria may enter through a cut in the dog’s skin or foot pad allowing easy access for invasion. Also dogs could ingest water from puddles or lick a surface or soil contaminated with rat urine. After exposure it takes about one week for dogs to present with clinical signs such as lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, fever, muscle soreness and jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes). Other symptoms are increased thirst or more frequent urination. If blood tests show a pattern of liver and kidney damage, more specific blood and urine testing can be performed to confirm a diagnosis of leptospirosis. Generally, affected dogs need to be hospitalized for aggressive supportive care and antibiotic therapy. The prognosis is guarded, as death can occur quickly if there is already severe damage to the liver and kidneys. There are 10-20 cases of dogs with leptospirosis treated annually in New York City.
Fortunately, there is a vaccine to protect your dog from getting this serious disease. We strongly recommend that all dogs in the city be vaccinated because dogs in urban areas are at constant risk for contracting Leptospirosis. Not only are dogs at risk, but so are their humans —Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease. Humans can contract the disease from exposure to rodent and/or infected dog urine. Affected persons may exhibit a rash, contract a high fever, have muscle pains, suffer from liver and/or kidney failure, meningitis, and/or respiratory distress. Leptospirosis is a worldwide disease affecting 1/2 million people annually with 100,000 fatalities.
Quick identification of this disease is imperative as prompt treatment may save the canine patient, and may also lessen exposure to any human caretakers or owners. Canine leptospirosis vaccines usually protect against 4 strains of the bacteria, and provide protection for 1 year. We give puppies their first leptospirosis vaccine between 12-20 weeks of age, booster it again 3-4 weeks later, and follow with annual boosters.
Important prevention tips:
-Lessen the risk of your dog getting this serious disease by keeping their Leptospirosis vaccines up to date
– Avoid known areas of rodent activity
– Don’t allow your dog to drink from or walk through puddles.
This will be one more step to keeping you and your pets safe and healthy!