Last year there was a leptospirosis outbreak in Southeast Michigan, including two cases in Washtenaw county. The majority of the cases were reported between August and November and involved investigation by three agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Leptospirosis, or lepto, is zoonotic, which means that it can be passed from animals to humans, so even people who don’t own pets should be aware of the danger.
Leptospirosis is a life-threatening disease transmitted through contact with urine from infected mammals (raccoons, rats, dogs, etc). The organisms quickly spread through the bloodstream, causing fever and lethargy, and very commonly can infect both the liver (10-20% of cases) and kidney (90% of cases). Typical symptoms include vomiting, excessive thirst, poor appetite, bleeding and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
Diagnosis is made from clinical examination and a positive lepto test. However, if the dog has been vaccinated in the last three months, the test may be difficult to interpret.
Treatment is Amoxicillin or Doxycycline for 3-4 weeks. If the dog is sick enough, fluid therapy can help support the damaged kidneys and complete recovery is possible if found early enough and depending on the extent of liver or kidney damage. Vaccination against six different serovars is readily available and recommended on an annual basis.
When it rains, the urine from infected animals frequently ends up washed into mud puddles, which to a dog may look like a nice place to have a drink. Prevention includes removal of wild animals and standing water in the areas your pet frequents, and not allowing your pet to drink from puddles when out and about. Don’t feed wildlife or stray animals, and try to avoid attracting them to your property. Avoid contact with animals that may be infected and wash your hands after handling your dog or anything that may have come into contact with dog urine.
With the drought experienced in Michigan and much of the country, there hasn’t been much standing water, which is a prime way for lepto to spread. But as we start to get more rain and the season begins to change once again, the chances of infection will rise. We hope that there won’t be another outbreak, but the possibility exists. So be mindful of the risk of lepto when you and your loved ones are outside. As we like to stress, prevention is the best medicine.
-Taryn Clark, DVM