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Protecting Your Canine

Feb 27, 2017 12:58PM ● By Louisa Asseo

As much of a sun-worshiper as I am, all the rain has been a much needed change. The hills are so alive again! I am enjoying my drive to work in the mornings and seeing the beautiful rolling hills covered in green. We are so fortunate to live in this community, where the open space backs up to our houses. Getting out onto the trails and enjoying nature is sometimes literally a step outside your front door.

Once spring weather arrives, I look forward to many hikes with my two dogs. This will be the first time in many years when the streams will be full, small waterfalls be flowing, and ponds should be brimming with local flora and fauna. As a naturalist, I welcome and admire these sites. As a veterinarian, I also look at all this water with mild trepidation. Water in open spaces can pose a few health concerns for our canine companions, including one called leptospirosis. 

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria. Leptospire bacteria are shed through the urine of infected animals. A lot of our wildlife serves as reservoirs for this disease: squirrels, raccoons, rats, skunks, and pigs, to name a few, as well as cattle. When these animals urinate around ponds or streams, they shed leptospire bacteria. These bacteria can stay alive and infectious in standing pools of water for up to six months. When a dog bounces through the water, they can be exposed to leptospirosis through breaks in the skin, mucous membranes, or ingestion.

Signs of this nasty disease include fever, decrease in appetite, generalized pain, icterus (yellowing of the eyes, skin, and mouth), vomiting, and frequent urination. The bacteria attack the kidneys and the liver, sometimes both, depending on the serovar (or strain) of leptospirosis. Aside from causing disease in dogs, leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that this disease can spread from animals to people. 

There are treatment options available for this disease, but some animals will succumb to their illness. Fortunately, focused vaccination can be a very effective means to prevent your dog from developing this infection.  Before you join me on the trails this season, make sure you discuss your dog’s risks factors with your veterinarian and make sure he or she is properly protected to romp through the hills with you. Wishing you all a happy and healthy spring!