Learn About Leptospirosis – After the Flood, Dogs Risk Infection

The flooding from Hurricane Harvey put many pets at risk. As animal lovers, we empathize with concerned pet owners who go to often-heroic lengths to evacuate and rescue their animals from rushing and rising waters. But the dangers posed to pets from floodwaters do not end once our furry companions are back on dry land.

Floodwaters tend to infiltrate and lift up whatever is underneath. That includes anything in the soil — pesticides, fertilizer/feces, and bacteria. One of those bacteria (Leptospira) can cause a disease called Leptospirosis, or “lepto” for short.

The bacteria like wet and warm climates and stagnant or slow moving water. Commonly found wildlife in Texas, such as mice, rats, raccoons and opossums, can pass the bacterial organism in their urine. That bacteria can survive for extended periods in the soil or water. Animals, and particularly dogs, can become exposed through contact with that water and soil. That potential exposure increases where floodwaters linger and with the heightened risk of direct contact with the urine of infected critters fleeing the flooded areas.

Symptoms range from increased thirst and urination (for dogs that are carriers) to a severe infection with vomiting, diarrhea, fever and yellowing of the skin. Left untreated, lepto can lead to sometimes-fatal kidney and liver infection.

Cases of canine leptospirosis have been reported in the U.S. for more than 100 years, and its prevalence appears to be increasing. From 1983 to 1998, the rate increased by 1.2 cases/100,000 dogs annually. While veterinarians would expect to see increased leptospirosis in the coastal and low-lying areas flooded by Hurricane Harvey, cases are not uncommon in greater Austin’s urban areas.

For dogs, prevention through vaccination is the key. Here in the Hill Country and Central Texas, where we live with the risk of flash flooding and hurricanes, Block House Creek urges you to consider vaccinating your dog against leptospirosis, particularly if it has not been vaccinated previously. Dogs older than 12 weeks that live in an area close to wildlife — woods, farms, creeks, ponds, and lakes — probably should be vaccinated. If you have any questions or concerns, speak with one of our veterinarians.