Leptospirosis (lepto) is a bacterial disease that can infect animals and humans. In the past, this was a fairly rare disease in dogs. However, over the past few years, it has become more common and easier to obtain.
Lepto is acquired by coming into contact with infected urine or from coming into direct contact with infected animals. The most common sources our dogs may acquire infection from includes rodents and wildlife, such as squirrels, raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks.
Our dogs can become infected by coming into contact with water or soil where the infected animal’s urine has spread. In fact, lepto can live in water and soil for weeks to months! It is a very persistent little bacteria! Our dogs can obtain the infection by drinking, swimming, or even just walking though water that is contaminated, as it can enter through the skin, eyes, mouth, or nose.
Lepto can be life-threatening to many dogs if they become infected. However, some dogs may not become sick, but could still shed the bacteria in their urine. Additionally, lepto can be shed in a dog’s urine for up to 3 months after infection.
Humans that come into contact with infected dogs are at a high risk of becoming infected themselves. This is very dangerous for children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. In fact, one-third of lepto cases in humans come from contact with infected dogs.
For this reason, and because of the communities of people we work closely with in promoting the human-animal bond, we follow the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation regarding lepto and dogs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends dogs be vaccinated against lepto yearly.
In the past, small dogs (dogs weighing less than 30 pounds) tended to have vaccine reactions to the lepto component of vaccines. Some would develop hives or facial swelling. However, over the past few years, vaccine technology has vastly improved and the risk of a vaccine reaction is far less likely now.
There is always a small percentage of dogs in which vaccine may not be 100% effective, and a small percentage of dogs that could still become carriers of the bacteria. While we can’t account for all of the variants, we can do our due diligence to protect the humans who our therapy dogs serve. Protecting this bond means minimizing any risk that may threaten it, which includes preventing infectious diseases that may be transmissible from dogs to humans.
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