. . . and so are zoonotic diseases
Surrounded by long reedy grasses and cattails, perhaps with overstretching shade from some giant oak tree, a quiet pond or marshy area offers the promise of cool refreshment and respite from a hot summer day, particularly when temperatures spike into triple digits. In rural areas, though, these stagnant bodies of water can harbor a zoonotic disease—one that has the potential to infect both animals and humans—known as Leptospirosis. Such infections most often occur during summer and fall months, when water sports and outdoor activities draw people—and their pets—to find refreshment in local pools, rural ponds, and watering holes.
“Leptospirosis is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium called Leptospira that thrives in stagnant and slow-moving water and in the soil in wet, humid weather conditions,” explains Dr. Jensen R. Young, a veterinarian at Zoot Pet Hospital who has treated Leptospirosis in several dogs. “It is a bacterium that can affect all mammals, including humans, [but] there is a low risk of direct transmission of Lepto from dogs to humans in America. The majority of people who contact Leptospirosis do so through water activities and work-related exposure to wildlife and domestic animals.”
People and their pets may contract Leptospirosis in much the same way, Dr. Young notes. When a person or a dog swims in or drinks contaminated water, for example, the spiral-shaped bacteria can work their way into the body through the porous mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. A person or animal can also contract the disease when an open wound or abrasion comes in contact with contaminated water, soil, or other animals. Once Leptospira works into the body, the bacteria move through the bloodstream and infect several internal organs, causing Leptospirosis.
“I have diagnosed and cared for a few animals that were identified with Leptospirosis,” notes Dr. Young. “All of the animals were dogs, and they all had a previous history of exposure to stagnant pools of water, mostly in the rural setting. [When] the bacteria enter the bloodstream, [they then] spread to replicate in internal organs such as the spleen, kidneys, and liver. Common signs [of infection] . . . in the dog are fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, muscle pain, icterus [jaundice], and increased or decreased water intake and urination.” Dr. Young adds that the disease can affect other animals, such as cattle, as well.
Leptospirosis usually responds well to treatment with antibiotics, Dr. Young says, though additional supportive care—such as hospitalization and IV fluids for an infected dog—is often necessary as well. A pet’s recovery can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, says Dr. Young, “potentially diseased dogs are strictly isolated [because] dogs and other animals can shed the Leptospira bacteria in their urine. The technical staff is diligent in wearing protective clothing and cleaning bodily fluids.”
Awareness of Leptospira bacteria and of the locations where they commonly occur, along with prevention of the disease, is usually the best course of action, both for people and their pets. Dr. Young recommends vaccinating dogs that may have a high risk for exposure to the bacteria, such as dogs in rural areas or in regular contact with wildlife, as well as dogs that assist with hunting and those that like to swim or play in water. “Vaccination is recommended [for] all animals with risk of exposure,” says Dr. Young, explaining that vaccination is the best way to protect a pet when “environmental exposure is difficult or impossible to control.”
Zoot Pet Hospital + Luxury Boarding
3981 Highway 29 West