Bathroom remodel sacrificed to care for dog

Bathroom remodel sacrificed to care for dog

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp | Sharp’s beloved dog, Penn, became deathly ill after contracting leptospirosis.

RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS five years ago, my 8-year-old dog, Penn, became deathly ill. He was depressed and listless. He'd lost his appetite, urinated a lot, vomited and drank a lot of water.

At first, the vet thought it was kidney failure because of blood test readings. Other tests revealed Penn had leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can be fatal to dogs and humans. Penn survived, but spent about a week in the hospital, weeks on high-potency antibiotics and was subjected to several follow-up tests, all which took the $2,200 I'd saved to remodel my bathroom. I learned a lot about this disease, which is on the rise as we continue suburban sprawl.

Leptospirosis spreads through the urine of mammals. Throughout the Midwest, raccoons seem to be the primary carriers, says Larry T. Glickman, a professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine in the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. Lepto is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. Swine flu and bird flu are other examples.

All mammals can get lepto, but it's not necessarily fatal for wildlife. Rather, they become carriers for the disease. Dogs can get sick if they drink tainted water or walk through grass and lick their paws. Cats also can be infected, but they don't seem to exhibit as severe symptoms.


Strains in each state

Most common strains of leptospirosis diagnosed in dogs

Light blue - L. Grippotyphosa

Dark blue - L. Autumnalis

Green - Multiple

Until recently, dogs with lepto came from farms, where cattle and other livestock can be infested. However, Glickman says a recent Purdue study of dogs with leptospirosis found that an important risk factor for disease was living in a recently developed area where there was increased contact with wildlife.

"The disease is under-diagnosed because vets don't always perform the blood test, called a titer, to diagnose the disease," Glickman says. The titer test detects antibodies and their concentration in the blood to reveal which of eight leptospirosis strains the pet was exposed to.

Dr. Rick Arnold, founder of highly rated Pet Pals Veterinary Hospital in Indianapolis, says communities have hot spots where there's an increased incidence of the disease. Arnold was one of the vets who treated my dog and says while he's not seen a huge uptick, he has seen a few more cases, most originating in suburban neighborhoods.

There is a vaccination for lepto, but Arnold says it's controversial because some dogs have adverse reactions such as swelling of the face. However, Glickman argues the vaccine is no more or less safe than other canine vaccines.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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