Number of leptospirosis cases decreasing in Southern Utah, vaccine now common practice at some vets

ST. GEORGE — Vaccines for leptospirosis have become part of the normal protocol at Red Hills Animal Hospital after veterinarians began treating dogs for the disease during the summer of 2019.

As of September 2019, approximately 50 to 60 cases of leptospirosis were confirmed in the St. George area, Dr. Caleb Gwilliam with Red Hills Animal Hospital said. Gwilliam told St. George News the clinic began using the vaccine for the disease in August.

“We’ve got pretty good success as far as clients being receptive to that and understanding the need for it, and we get most of our clientele, probably 80% or more, vaccinated for it,” Gwilliam said.

Gwilliam said he suspects the disease originated from a dog visiting from out of state.

“We have a very nice area that people like to come to visit, and often when they do that they have to board their dog,” Gwilliam said. “So my assumption is that we probably had one that came out of an area that this disease is more endemic too, and then shared it amongst the boarding facilities and then it just kind of spread from dog to dog in that environment.”

Gwilliam said while cases were common toward the end of 2019, he reached out to other clinics in Cedar City, Kanab and Mesquite, Nevada to determine if the disease had occurred in other areas, to find the expanse of the spread and what areas it was prominent in.

“It was an odd thing because we don’t typically have this disease here, and so there’s a lot of times that we may get similar clinical signs or similar things, but when you’re dealing with a disease that we just don’t normally see you don’t often test for it,” Gwilliam said. “It was more of a question, ‘are we missing anything’ and making sure if they’re seeing it that we get on top of it quickly so that we don’t have a terrible time trying to take care of it.”

Stock image, St. George News

He added that veterinarians in the area also encouraged local boarding facilities to start requiring the leptospirosis vaccine, as it was believed to spread most commonly in such environments. Red Hills has since made it common practice as well.

“We now just have that as our normal protocol for puppy vaccines,” Gwilliam said. “So, we started there and then we talk with every single person that comes in about leptospirosis and encourage them to get that vaccine protocol started.”

Gwilliam said leptospirosis primarily attacks the kidneys in dogs, but can also affect the liver. The disease most commonly shows as fever, lethargy and differences in frequency and color of urination.

“It is spread in the urine of infected dogs and so we can have kidney type of signs that can extend anywhere from just a little bit of an upset stomach and not feeling well all the way to vomiting and different things like that,” Gwilliam said.

He also said he commonly saw symptoms of pain in the hind area of dogs, like a reluctance to jump or be active. Gwilliam said some dogs treated for the disease experienced permanent kidney damage, though most dogs recovered, and estimated minimal deaths as a result of the disease. Cases of leptospirosis are not as frequent as Gwilliam experienced in 2019, but he has treated one dog with the disease this month.

Gwilliam said the primary preventative measure dog owners can take is to get their dogs vaccinated, which should be an available service at most veterinary clinics in Southern Utah.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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