Spike in Leptospirosis Cases in Chicago

The following message was sent to all Family Pet Animal Hospital clients via email on 10/6/16.

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The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital want to inform you of a steady increase in leptospirosis cases in dogs in Chicago in the last few months.  Leptospirosis is a zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans) bacterial disease that can be fatal if left untreated.  MedVet Chicago, a 24-hour emergency and specialty animal hospital on the north side of the city, has reported treating 15 cases of leptospirosis since June of 2016.  While this may seem like a small number, it is considered a large spike.  Half of these cases seen at MedVet were fatal, although it is important to note that MedVet tends to see the most severe cases.

Transmission

Chicago’s rodent population and the above average rainfall this summer may be factors in the rise in leptospirosis infections.  The disease is primarily transmitted through the urine of infected wildlife such as rats, raccoons, and squirrels.  Exposure occurs most commonly through contaminated water.  Stagnant or slow-moving water becomes contaminated when diseased small mammals deposit their urine in or near the water.  If pets lick up this contaminated water, either directly or off their nose or paws, the bacteria can enter their system and they may develop an infection.

Symptoms

According to Jayme Hoffberg, DVM, head of MedVet Chicago’s Emergency and Critical Care, most of the dogs infected with leptospirosis are presenting with gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting or diarrhea.  Severe infections can cause acute kidney failure and can also cause damage to the liver.

Symptoms and signs of leptospirosis in dogs can vary and be similar to those of other illnesses.  Some infected dogs may not show any noticeable signs of the disease.   We advise you to seek veterinary care for your dog if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tenderness and/or reluctance to move
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in frequency or amount of urination

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for leptospirosis generally involves hospitalization, antibiotics, and supportive care.  If treated early and aggressively, chances for recovery are good.  However, there is a risk of permanent kidney or liver damage.

Vaccination is the best protection for your dog against leptospirosis.  There are 10 serovars (strains) of Leptospira and the current vaccine used by the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital protects against four serovars (the most coverage available).  While vaccinating your dog does not a guarantee he/she will not contract leptospirosis, it is the best defense available.  The veterinarians at Family Pet highly recommend vaccinating your dog against this serious and potentially deadly disease.

Because leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and the community if your dog is infected

  • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment of your dog.
  • Avoid contact with your dog’s urine. If you have to clean up your dog’s urine in your home, wear gloves and clean the area with a household disinfectant.
  • Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where other people or animals will have access.
  • Wash your hands after handling your dog.

If you have questions about leptospirosis or are unsure whether or not your dog has received or is current on his/her leptospirosis vaccination, please contact the hospital.  If you’ve signed up for our online portal or app, you can log in to view your pet’s medical reminders and due dates as well.  (Instructions can be found here to sign up or sign in to allyConnect.)

Sincerely,

The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital