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Dog owners beware: Warning signs for deadly leptospirosis

PARAMUS, NJ –Clinicians from BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Paramus say they’ve seen a recent rise in the number of cases of a potentially fatal bacterial disease, and they are encouraging dog owners in the New Jersey area to take steps to keep their pets safe.

Dr. Benjamin Davidson, who is board-certified in emergency and critical care and a BluePearl medical director, said the hospital has seen five confirmed cases of leptospirosis since October – a number he characterized as unusually high.

“The disease is definitely present in our area,” Davidson said. “That could be in part because it’s been an unusually warm winter for us.”

Leptospirosis is caused by various strains of a spiral-shaped microorganism called Leptospira interrogans. The disease tends to be transmitted through the urine of wild animals, and dogs often get infected in areas with creeks, puddles, ponds and other places where there is a lot of standing water.

The disease is zoonotic, which means it can be transferred to humans, such as the cases that recently popped up in the Bronx that killed one person and sickened at least two others. If your dog is one of the few who gets the disease, you should consider making a trip to your own physician. Also, wash your hands after taking your dog for a walk.

Davidson said there are two principles to keep in mind to guard against leptospirosis: Carefully observe your pet for any changes in behavior, and make sure to talk to a veterinarian about anything that doesn’t seem right.

Here are some tips:

  • Be on the lookout for these possible signs of the disease: Fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, increased urination or an inability to urinate. While these also can be signs of other health problems, they’re all good reasons to take your dog to the veterinarian.
  • Dogs tend to get leptospirosis in muddy, wooded areas so take caution when going for hikes. Don’t allow your dog to swim in these areas or lap up water from a puddle.
  • Dogs can be vaccinated for leptospirosis, and Davidson strongly recommends talking to your primary care veterinarian about getting the vaccine.
  • Since the disease is carried by rodents, do everything you can to keep your backyard rodent-free. Keep grass mowed and dispose of trash properly.

The good news is that leptospirosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics if caught early. That’s why keeping a watchful eye is so important. More advanced cases can be treated with dialysis, which is planned for BluePearl-Paramus within the next year.

“The sooner you start the antibiotic treatment, the better the chances for a good outcome,” Davidson said. “That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your dog and get to the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble.”

BluePearl Paramus is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with board-certified veterinarians and skilled emergency clinicians ready to handle any pet-related illness or injury. As a specialty and emergency hospital, it also has the advanced equipment necessary to treat complex illnesses, such as leptospirosis.