Hollywood Florida’s Top Vet Explains What Pet Owners Need to Know About Leptospirosis

Maybe you've seen it in the local news. There is a not-so-new disease that has recently become a hot topic in South Florida. Although it is rare, Leptospirosis is something owners in the Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale area should know about. This bacteria can not only affect your canine companion but can also be transmitted to humans.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is caused by a bacteria, Leptospira. This bacteria thrives in warm, wet environments, which is where Broward county comes in. Our many beautiful lakes and waterways could be potential homes for the Leptospira bacteria. Lepto, as it's more commonly known, is transmitted in the urine of urban wildlife such as rats, opossums and raccoons. When infected urine goes into these warm, wet environments such as lakes, streams or even mud, it can live there for a very long time. The bacteria is transmitted to our pets when they swim or drink from these contaminated waters.

The majority of dogs affected with lepto will show signs of acute kidney disease including lethargy, decreased appetite and vomiting. Often, kidney disease is combined with liver failure and notable jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes, skin and gums). Disease can range from mild to life threatening; unfortunately the latter is more common. Treatment requires hospitalization, antibiotics, IV fluids and symptomatic treatment. It is extremely rare for cats to be affected.

The other major concern is zoonosis, meaning Leptospirosis can be transmitted from animals to people. The Lepto bacteria is passed through the urine of infected dogs. Some pets can be carriers of the disease and shed the bacteria in the urine without showing symptoms. The good news is that the Leptospira bacteria is easily killed by bleach and other household cleaners and can be rid from the yard by thoroughly hosing down areas of urination.

Is my dog at risk?

Not all dogs are at risk for Leptospira but those that are high risk should be vaccinated. Any dog that frequently goes hunting, hiking, and swimming or lives in a known Lepto "hot spot" should be vaccinated. In the past, we in South Florida were not in one of those "hot spots." Although Lepto is spread across the whole country, the highest numbers are in the Northwestern U.S., Ohio/Pennsylvania and Virginia/Maryland areas. Recently, Broward county has had an increasing number of Lepto cases, a number that will only continue to grow as it spreads throughout the urban wildlife population. It is a possibility that Broward county could become a Lepto "hot spot". Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale area pets living near waterways and lakes or who frequent freshwater locations are the most at risk.

The Leptospirosis vaccine is a yearly vaccine, which requires an initial series of two injections. The vaccine is highly effective at preventing the disease and can reduce severity of disease in the rare vaccinated dog that contracts the disease. Since Leptospirosis in cats is extremely uncommon, there is no feline vaccine available.

The Leptosirosis vaccine is offered at DPC Veterinary Hospital in Davie, FL. Talk to your veterinarian to see if your dog is at risk. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at (954) 516-1654.