Chicago Vet: 'Huge Spike' in Rare Dog Illness Leptospirosis

Chicago Vet: 'Huge Spike' in Rare Dog Illness Leptospirosis
Dog vaccine

Dog vaccine

It’s certainly not a new disease, but one Chicago-area veterinarian says the dangerous pet illness leptospirosis is making a comeback in the suburbs, especially among dogs.

Dr. Tony Kremer, owner of highly rated Hinsdale Animal Hospital and five other suburban veterinary practices, says there has been a recent “huge spike” in the rare but contagious bacterial infection in dogs.

Kremer says veterinarians at his suburban Chicago practices have seen six cases of leptospirosis in recent weeks, two of which were fatal. “This number of cases is astoundingly higher than it has been in years,” he says. 

RELATED: Which vaccines does my dog need?

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria found in the urine of wild animals. Domesticated pets come in contact with the urine usually by drinking contaminated water in the outdoors, Kremer says. While treatable with sometimes months of antibiotics, leptospirosis attacks the kidneys, and is often deadly if not diagnosed in time. 

Symptoms of the leptospirosis can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • fever and illness
  • increased thirst
  • dehydration
  • vomiting
  • depression
  • weakness
  • stiffness in muscles
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing
  • irregular pulse

In advanced cases, Kremer says jaundice also may occur, and if so, it may be too late for leptospirosis treatment. 

Is it preventable? 

The recent surge in leptospirosis cases in dogs around Chicago can be traced to a change in veterinary protocol for canine distemper shots, Kremer says.

Many vets now administer the distemper vaccine every three years instead of annually. Vaccine for leptospirosis is part of the distemper round, but it's not strong enough to last a full three years between distemper shots, Kremer says.

“A lot of people have moved to the three-year distemper,” Kremer says. “Right now what we’re trying to tell people is that they need to call their vet to make sure they are current for leptospirosis. If not, their dog could be at risk. This vaccine needs to be given every year."

Can it be transmitted?

Leptospirosis is a disease that all mammals, including humans, can get. Though even more rare in domestic cats, Kremer says pet owners can pick it up through the fecal matter and saliva of infected animals. So, animals found with leptospirosis are often quarantined while they battle the disease. 

“The rise in these cases is actually quite worrisome,” Kremer says. “Many people don’t know a lot about this disease, and if it’s not caught early enough there’s not a whole lot that can be done. People shouldn’t take a wait and see approach with this. If there are symptoms, get them to the vet to get tested right away.”

RELATED: How to find a veterinarian that's right for you and your pet


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