Think your patients aren’t exposed to leptospirosis? Think again.

Any pet that drinks water from puddles risks contracting leptospirosis. That’s where wild animals drink (and urinate), setting the stage for the spread of this dangerous disease. The number of cases of leptospirosis is rising in urban and rural communities, even in dry climates. Here’s what you need to know to protect your patients and clients.

Is leptospirosis really a threat?

You bet, and the threat is everywhere. Without treatment, this bacterial disease can lead to organ damage and death, especially in dogs. Leptospirosis, lepto for short, is carried by all kinds of wild animals including rodents, raccoons, skunks, and opossums. Dogs can become infected simply by drinking from a puddle that an infected animal has urinated in, or licking a paw after walking through damp grass. While it’s not common for dogs to spread the disease to humans, it can happen. People are more apt to get infected by swimming or working in contaminated water or touching items that have been contaminated with infected urine.

Take this 1-hour archived webinar for a complete overview of leptospirosis.

Big dogs, small dogs, anywhere you find dogs

Leptospirosis used to be considered a risk predominantly for big, sporting dogs who roamed country fields and woods. But that’s changing. Over the past 10 years, the incidence is increasing in small-breed dogs, often in urban and even arid settings. Outbreaks have been reported in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Illinois, metropolitan New Jersey, Plano, Texas, and Fountain Hills, Arizona. The risk of leptospirosis exists wherever people, pets, and wild animals come into contact. These days that’s pretty much everywhere.

Be on the lookout for lepto

Wherever you practice, it’s important to rule out lepto when patients present with flu-like symptoms. With wide-ranging clinical signs, leptospirosis can be mistaken for any number of illnesses. But a delayed diagnosis can be deadly for your patients. It’s best to include leptospirosis in your differential diagnoses when dogs present with common signs including:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Altered thirst and urinations
  • Jaundice
  • Petechiae

Dr. Richard Goldstein, chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City, details the challenges of diagnosis and his recommendations for testing in his free 1-hour webinar.

Implement a protocol that's easy and effective

The earlier you diagnose canine leptospirosis, the sooner you can initiate treatment that may be lifesaving. An important first step is to test every sick dog that presents with signs consistent with leptospirosis including fever, lethargy, and anorexia. The SNAP® Lepto Test detects antibodies to Leptospira spp. in minutes allowing you to start treatment immediately when results are positive.

Like all SNAP tests from IDEXX, the SNAP Lepto Test uses reference laboratory technology to deliver superior diagnostic accuracy. These unique pet-side tests incorporate three distinct steps that improve the sensitivity and specificity of results. The bidirectional flow of the sample gives antibodies a greater chance to bind; the integrated wash step removes impurities from the sample; and the amplification step ensures that even low-level positives are identified. Delivering accurate results during the patient visit helps you protect your patients, pet owners, and staff from this serious infection.

Learn more about the SNAP Lepto Test.

Sarah Tasse, DVM

posted by Sarah Tasse, DVM

Dr. Tasse received her DVM from Colorado State University in 1997. After graduation she worked in a variety of small-animal private practices in both Colorado and New England. She joined IDEXX in August 2011 as a medical affairs marketing manager for Companion Animal Group, Rapid Assay.

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