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Summer Health Watch for Pets

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Warm Weather Raises Risk for Leptospirosis For Dogs and their Owners

Summer is here! For many people, that means enjoying the great outdoors. While splashing around in your favorite lake this season or running through sprinklers in your backyard, dog owners should be aware of a potentially fatal bacteria that is more common this time of year.

Leptospirosis is a disease that is spread when bacteria in the urine of infected rodents and other wild animals (opossums, skunks, raccoons) enters a dog’s body through their mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, mouth, and even through cuts on their skin.

“This bacteria thrives in warm weather,” according to Dr. Jennifer Adler, board certified veterinary internal medicine specialist at CARES in Langhorne. “We see cases of leptospirosis especially after rain storms or rainy weather, if a dog takes a drink from standing water that’s infected. The bacteria can be in a puddle, or a pond, and can even be on the grass, in your own backyard.”

The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis can vary greatly from dog to dog. Some pets show no symptoms at all. Others may have moderate symptoms of generally not feeling well, or not eating, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Yet others could go into full kidney and liver failure. “It’s more common than people probably realize,” says Dr. Adler. “But, it can be catastrophic with how ill they can become.”

Some dogs are more at risk than others such as pets who live on a farm or roam on rural properties, or those that play in ponds or lakes. “But, we have seen dogs from the city with leptospirosis, that are simply walking the sidewalk,” adds Dr. Adler. Cats, however, rarely show signs of leptospirosis and therefore are not considered at risk.

And, while we can’t live in a bubble and want to get outside and enjoy the summer, there are ways to help prevent leptospirosis in your dog. First, “keep your pet away from standing water, especially after a rainstorm,” cautions Dr. Adler. Also, consider the leptospirosis vaccine, especially if your dog is considered high risk.

If your dog is diagnosed with leptospirosis, it can be treated if discovered in its early stages. This includes antibiotics and supportive care in the hospital.   And, it’s important to note that leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease. That means it could potentially be spread from your dog, to you. Although the risk of transmission from dog to owner is low, there are some things dog owners should do to protect themselves if their pet is diagnosed with leptospirosis, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  1. Follow your veterinarian’s directions on giving your pet their antibiotics.
  2. Avoid contact with your dog’s urine.
  3. If your dog urinates at home, use gloves and a household disinfectant to clean up.
  4. Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water, or other areas where people or animals have access, including playgrounds.
  5. Wash your hands after handling your dog.

Treating leptospirosis and other infectious diseases in dogs can be costly, depending upon the severity of the illness. We advise pet owners to consider a pet insurance plan as a way to protect your pet from potentially expensive veterinary care. Many pet owners today opt to purchase pet insurance before any pre-existing condition arises. You can learn more about pet insurance plans today by going online.

If you have any questions about leptospirosis, talk to your family veterinarian or feel free to make an appointment at CARES by calling 215-750-2774.

Dr. Jennifer Adler, Board Certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist at CARES
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