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Dear Daisy Dog

My German shepherd, Max, has leptospirosis. The veterinarian says the disease can be deadly in dogs and that I need to protect myself so I don’t get it too. Please tell me about this disease.

Daisy Responds

Leptospirosis, often referred to as “lepto,” is caused by various strains of Leptospira bacteria that damage the kidneys and liver in dogs, humans and other species. As your veterinarian noted, lepto can even be fatal.

Leptospira bacteria can survive for years in warm, slow-moving water and moist soil. Disease incidence is highest in the summer and fall; freezing temperatures and direct sunlight kill the bacteria.

Infected animals excrete the Leptospira bacteria in their urine. Transmission occurs when the bacteria in contaminated water or soil enter the victim’s body, generally through the skin, nose or mouth. Lepto also may develop when dogs eat infected animals, including rodents, or contact contaminated bedding or food.

Treatment requires antibiotics to combat the disease and eliminate the carrier state, in which a recovered dog can still excrete infectious bacteria in the urine.

Vaccination helps prevent clinical signs of the disease caused by several of the most common Leptospira strains. Once the initial series is complete, boosters are given every six to 12 months.

However, vaccinated dogs can still become carriers, spreading the disease through their urine.

So it’s essential to minimize exposure to the bacteria by eliminating stagnant and slow-moving water, avoiding ponds and wet areas where animals urinate, and controlling rodent populations.

In addition, infected dogs like Max must be isolated, and you should wear gloves and take precautions when you discard his urine.


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