When most people bring their dog to the surgery for vaccinations, they tend to think of the benefits of the full health examination and the protection against diseases such as Parvovirus and Distemper.
Few people give much thought to the other vaccine components. And yet, one of the most important components of the regular vaccination is the protection against the two forms of Leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis is a surprisingly widespread infection in dogs a variety of animals. Leptospirosis is caused by a group of organisms called spirochetes which are similar to bacteria but move and wriggle about in a spinning motion using a wavy membrane called a flagella.
Most of the infected wild animals and domestic animals that spread leptospirosis do not appear ill. In these animals, the leptospira take up residence in their kidneys and are voided in the urine. These carrier animals shed leptospira intermittently for months or years.
Pets can become infected by sniffing this urine or by swimming or drinking from rivers, canals, lakes, puddles etc where infected urine has been washed into.
The signs of Leptospirosis infection can be many and varied but can most commonly include fever and depression, vomiting and loss of appetite. Some dogs will develop inflammation in the eye (called uveitis), nervous system abnormalities, blood tinged urine and hepatitis signs. A few dogs, particularly juveniles, will die suddenly before many of these signs occur.
Leptospira organisms can be treated using antibiotics but sick animals will need supportive treatment to counter the vomiting and intravenous fluids to help flush the kidneys and try to limit the permanent damage.
Action to prevent Leptospirosis really falls into 2 groups:
Firstly, limiting your pets access to contaminated water. This means, avoiding letting your dog drink from puddles and avoiding stagnant water such as canals where the build-up of infection is likely to be greatest.
Secondly, maintaining regular vaccinations. In most dogs, the immunity to Leptospirosis falls rapidly after a year and so maintaining immunity with vaccination every 12 months is essential.
Leptospirosis can be deeply unpleasant and can be very serious but is readily preventable with a safe, economic and effective vaccine.