Winter is Coming… and so is Leptospirosis

As the calendar progresses and we turn towards the autumnal equinox, the summer weather of foggy days leaves us behind. We will start to have our warmer temperatures and sunny days and what we have come to see as “Summer.” However, that also means that the Winter rains are around the corner.  Our rainy season also means that a common bacterial disease will start to appear again. Leptospirosis is a common infectious disease that we diagnose during our rainy season, November to March.  Leptospirosis is important because it is a zoonotic disease; it can infect our pets (dogs) and people.

Leptospirosis is spread in the urine of infected animals and it can be carried by rodents, raccoons, opossums, deer, coyotes, horses, cattle, marine mammals, sheep and dogs. It can survive in wet grass, soil and water.  When your dog (or a person) is exposed by contact with infected urine, water or soil, the bacteria can enter through the skin or mucous membranes.  After exposures symptoms can show up in as little as 2 days, however 7 days is more typical.

Common symptoms are fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anorexia (not eating), stiffness, drinking and urinating frequently, weakness and lethargy.  Affected dogs can develop kidney disease, liver disease, and in rare instances bleeding in their lungs. If your dog is acting sick, you should bring your dog to see your veterinarian immediately. Some dogs have mild symptoms and while others can get very sick and require extensive hospitalization.

If your dog has symptoms suggestive of Leptospirosis, we recommend testing them for the disease and treating them appropriately. Treatment often involves hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics and supportive care.  Some dogs may become very sick and will need to be treated at a specialty hospital like the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin, or the VMTH at UC Davis. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us at Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital.

How do you prevent leptospirosis? Ideally, we want to prevent your dogs from walking, swimming and drinking water that may be contaminated with urine. During our winter, examples would be standing water on the trails, seasonal creeks in the Open Space and even the wet grass along creeks and rivers. Cases have been reported in dogs that have been all over Marin- city streets, out in the Open Space and even at the beaches.  Beyond preventing exposure to these locations, the other preventive measure is vaccination.

While we have been recommending the vaccine for several years, with the drought we were not as vigilant as we should have been. The vaccine for leptospirosis has been considered a non-core or lifestyle vaccine (based on risk). In April of this year, the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) at UC Davis changed their recommendation and leptospirosis is now a core vaccine, like Rabies and DA2PP (Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza).  We recommend that all of our canine patients be immunized. The vaccine that we recommend contains 4 serovars to help protect against leptospirosis. If your dog has not had the vaccine before, it is initially given as a 2-booster series given at a 4-week interval. Afterwards, the booster immunization is once a year. At Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital, we recommend giving the vaccine in the Autumn months, although it may be given at any time throughout the year.

Andrew Lie DVM, DABVP- Canine + Feline Practice

Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs

We all have heard about Lyme disease and most of us probably know a family member, friend, or coworker who has contracted it. Additionally, most of us probably know that dogs can also get Lyme disease. However, did you also know that there are other common tick-borne diseases? In Marin, we have two common tick-borne diseases, Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis. Both of these diseases are caused by bacteria that are transmitted from ticks into dogs and people when bitten.

Both diseases are carried by the same two species of ticks in Marin, the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). With our mild climate and no prolonged freeze during our winter, we have tick exposure throughout the entire year. These two factors are why we recommend year round tick prevention for our canine friends. Prevention of the disease is much easier than treating the disease.

The symptoms of both Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis are also similar. The most common symptoms are lethargy (excessively tired, listless), lameness/limping, fever, and decreased appetite. Many dogs develop a mild case after being exposed to these bacteria and have no symptoms, however, there are some that can get quite sick. These dogs often require hospitalization, IV fluids, and antibiotics, and once the patient is stable to go home, they are treated for about 1 month with oral antibiotics. With Lyme disease, there is also a very small number of our patients who will develop Lyme nephritis (a form of kidney disease) that can have lifelong consequences. If your dog has been exposed to ticks that have taken a blood meal, and they are showing the above symptoms, then testing them and treating them is important.

Isn’t there a vaccine? What can I do to prevent these diseases? What should I do? These are all excellent questions. There is a vaccine to help prevent Lyme disease, however, we don’t recommend it as a routine vaccine for our canine patients at Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital (TLVH). Given the overall prevalence of Lyme disease in Marin and that there are extremely effective preventative treatments, the vaccine is not considered a core vaccine for our patients. However, if you are traveling with your dog to the Upper Midwest or NY/New England, you might want to consider this vaccine. These are the current recommendations from the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. For prevention, there are several effective treatments for ticks. At Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital, we are currently recommending the oral medication Nexgard, but there are other options also available as special orders. These oral medications are all very effective at killing ticks (and fleas) before they have the opportunity to transmit the bacteria. Seresto and Preventic are very effective options that are used as collars. While there are several topical products, we are finding that they are not as effective as they once were and are not recommending them as the first choice. Last year, especially, we had several clients report that Advantix and Frontline Plus were not working for them any longer.

So what is the take home message?

Yes we do have ticks here and yes they can carry diseases that can infect our dogs and us. We recommend that all of our canine companions are on a tick and flea preventative year round. We would be happy to discuss the options in greater detail at your next appointment. Here is some general information about tick prevention in Marin

~Andrew Lie DVM, DABVP- Canine + Feline Practice