November 18, 2020

Dog owners are being urged to speak with their local vet about a severe and fatal bacterial disease called leptospirosis, following recent outbreaks in Australian suburbs.

Considered a silent killer, leptospirosis is spread in the urine of infected animals (mainly rats). Dogs can become infected from exposure to water, food, soil or bedding contaminated with rat urine, or from direct contact with an infected rat, for example, a rat bite or eating a rat.

With rats found throughout our cities and suburbs, puddles or stagnant water containing the bacteria responsible for leptospirosis may be found in or near hotspots such as parks, construction sites and densely populated areas. Dogs with leptospirosis can develop liver disease, kidney disease and bleeding disorders, which are often fatal. This year, cases in Sydney have already been reported in Newtown, Balmain, Crows Nest and Paddington.

Know The Facts About This Disease

“Sadly, I have seen too many cases of dogs dying from leptospirosis and families going through the pain of losing their beloved pet; however, prevention is possible. Therefore, the time is now for dog owners to know the facts and consider vaccinating against the disease,” said Dr Kate Adams, veterinarian and owner of Bondi Vet Hospital.

“In addition to affecting dogs, leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. In Australia, it is estimated that one to two-hundred people a year are affected by leptospirosis, so this isn’t just a problem for our dogs.” said Dr Kate. “It is important to note however, that although dogs can transmit leptospirosis to humans, this is thought to be rare, with most human cases associated with occupational (e.g. farming) or recreational (e.g. camping) exposure.”

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

A recent study of dog owners found that nearly all (92%) say preventative health is a priority for their dog and family.

“Dog owners are becoming more conscious of protecting their furry friends from parasites and other nasties but there is still a lack of awareness about this silent killer and we need to change that,” said Dr Adams.

According to Dr Adams, while our understanding of leptospirosis has improved significantly in recent years and it is now easier to test for, there is still a long way to go in regard to public awareness of this disease.

The Best Defense Against This Disease

“Once a dog has leptospirosis, it can be difficult to treat, and in the recent cases in Sydney and Melbourne, only one case has been reported to have survived, despite in many cases, intensive treatment. It’s important that dog owners stay informed and know the signs to look out for.”

“Vaccination is the best defence,” concluded Dr Kate.

Tips for dog owners concerned about the risks posed by leptospirosis include:

  • Talking to their local vet clinic about vaccination and regular boosters – following an initial vaccination course, dogs need to have a booster administered once a year.
  • Considering their location in proximity to previous cases and discussing with their local vet if they are in an ‘at-risk’ area.
  • Monitoring their dog’s surroundings when at home and out on walks with them – avoiding contact with rats or areas frequented by rats.
  • Considering key factors including stagnant water and nearby construction sites.
  • Regularly monitoring their dog for signs that may be associated with leptospirosis such as lethargy, elevated body temperature, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

To learn more about leptospirosis, speak to your local veterinarian.

Are you aware of this awful disease? Tell us in the comments below.

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