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We revisit cute Wildlife and Leptospirosis

by Katie McKay | Feb 07, 2016
I saw the cutest little video on Facebook.  It was a two little foxes playing with a dog toy they had found in the yard…caught on security cameras, they romped and played for quite some time.  Isn’t it neat how close we can get to wildlife without even leaving our house? Wait…..
The next morning I read an article about an increase in cases of Leptospirosis out of Greenville, NC and I remembered the fox video. (Link to the article can be found here). They suddenly became, not so cute. Wildlife exisits close to us all the time and for our adventure loving dogs, chance encounters with wildlife happen more and more frequently. Lepto can be spread thru contact with infected urine  from other dogs, livestock and various wildlife. It causes severe kidney and liver damage. The bacteria can live for a long time on wet soil and in standing water, hence the report on the news. With all the rain we have had this year, its a thriving environment for Lepto and increases the chance that your dog will be exposed to a live bacteria that can cause infection. According to the article , 1 dog in Greenville died from a suspected Lepto infection and 8 dogs in Wilmington, NC have died this year. Last year a dog was diagnosed in Hillsborough a few days after hiking in and near the Eno River, read about it here. Another problem is that people can catch Leptospirosis. That's right, if you are exposed to infected urine, including your own dog (if they are infected) you can get Lepto. I won't go in to the symptoms and treatment for Lepto since we have discussed that before (click here) but remind everyone about vaccination! There is a vaccination for Lepto, which actually protects your dog against four different strains of lepto. Even though this doesn't mean 100% protection, it does significantly reduce the risk your dog will contract lepto AND if he does, it will lessen the severity of the symptoms and that could mean the difference between irreversable damage to major organs.
Easy right? This is where I want to point out that you need to be mindful of what your dog's vaccination schedule is.  That's right, ask questions! Most people are aware of the DHPP vaccine, casually called the Distemper/Parvo vaccine. It's actually a vaccination for Canine Distemper, Infectious Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenza . The DHLPP, which contains Lepto, is also commonly used. Now comes the tricky part. In 2006, the American Animal Hospital Association compiled years of data and released recommended guidelines for vaccination frequency. With good reason (geography and risk factors), veterinarians seem to have settled on setting their own schedule for vaccine intervals, some recommend every year and some recommed every three years, some recommend titer checks and vaccination only if titer levels are too low. This makes it confusing for pet owners and for me, trying to explain it. So here's the bottom line. Many vet offices in our area (and others) are giving the DHPP vaccine every three years and that's perfectly fine. However, if your dog is getting the Lepto vaccine, they need to get it EVERY year.  There's scientific data showing good protection for longer periods of time with vaccines like Distemper and Parvo, but not for Lepto. Lepto needs to be given annually. 
One final thought on the Lepto vaccine. It is somewhat more likely to cause a serious allergic reaction than other vaccines, but that risk is still extremely small for an individual dog. Be sure to talk to your vet about your and your pet's lifesytle to determine risk of contracting lepto. Puppies begin vaccination around 13 to 14 weeks for lepto and older dogs who have never been vaccinated should get their first vaccine followed by a booster 3-4 weeks later.
We have much to talk about with vaccines, but sometimes its best to tackle one at a time. Keep your questions handy for our next episode of Q&A!

Cheers! Go Panthers!
Katie