ST. GEORGE — Cases of dogs infected with a rare disease have been reported in the St. George area within the last two weeks, according to veterinary and health department officials.
Known as leptospirosis, the disease can cause liver and kidney damage, and can be fatal in extreme cases. The disease can also transfer to humans.
Jacey Madden, a veterinary technician with Washington Family Veterinary Clinic, said suspected cases of leptospirosis were first noticed by veterinary clinics the last week of August.
“It’s very contagious and is something pet owners need to be concerned about,” Madden said.
Leptospirosis is so rarely seen in Southern Utah that local veterinary clinics have to send tests to an out-of-town lab to confirm whether or not a dog is infected with the disease, which can take up to three days.
A vaccine does exist for leptospirosis, and some Southern Utah veterinary clinics carry the vaccine.
It is believed that the disease was picked up by area dogs at a boarding facility and has spread from there, Madden said. While the Washington Family Veterinary Clinic has tested one suspected case of leptospirosis, other clinics have experienced multiple suspected cases, she said.
According to the PetMD website, leptospirosis is caused by the bacteria leptospira, which can be passed along in the urine of infected animals and can contaminate water and soil. The bacteria can also survive for long periods in warm, stagnant water and moist soil, typically seen more in tropical, subtropical and wet environments
Both humans and animals can become infected through contact with contaminated water, soil, urine or other bodily fluids, minus saliva, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leptospirosis in dogs can have many symptoms or none at all, Madden said. However, a possible sign that a dog is infected is abnormal behavior, she said.
“If they’re not acting themselves, bring them in as soon as possible,” Madden said, adding this is how one woman suspected her pet may be infected and brought it in for testing.
Signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs, according to PetMD:
- Sudden fever and illness.
- Sore muscles, reluctance to move.
- Stiffness in muscles, legs, stiff gait.
- Lack of appetite.
- Increased thirst and urination, may be indicative of chronic renal (kidney) failure, progressing to inability to urinate.
- Rapid dehydration.
- Vomiting, possibly with blood.
- Diarrhea – with or without blood in stool.
- Bloody vaginal discharge.
- Dark red speckled gums (petechiae).
- Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes – anemic symptoms.
- Spontaneous cough.
- Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse.
- Runny nose.
- Swelling of the mucous membrane.
- Mild swelling of the lymph nodes.
The illness tends to come on quickly, within a few days, and can be fatal in extreme cases. Dogs with mild infections may not show signs of the disease at all. Younger animals are considered more at risk than older ones since their immune system is not as developed.
The majority of dogs can be successfully treated with antibiotics, Madden said.
“About 95% of lepto cases turn out fine,” she said.
There is still the possibility for kidney and liver damage however, and if that is detected the dog may require hospitalization.
Other animals that can carry the leptospira bacteria include, but are not limited to: Rodents, cattle, pigs, horses and wild animals.
As leptospirosis can spread to humans, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is monitoring the situation, but has not yet encountered a human case of the disease, spokesperson David Heaton said.
“It’s quite rare,” Heaton said. “There are only about 100-150 cases in the U.S. annually.”
According to the CDC, human cases of leptospirosis can have the following symptoms:
- High fever.
- Muscle aches.
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
- Red eyes.
- Abdominal pain.
Severe cases can lead to kidney and liver failure, as well as meningitis.
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