By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
Veterinary Public Health has noted a “large increase” in reported confirmed and suspected canine leptospirosis cases in the county, with most affected dogs living or having exposures in locations on the westside of the county or the San Fernando Valley.
“Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacteria called Leptospira interrogans,” according to the Veterinary Public Health website. “These bacteria can infect multiple species of mammals, including humans, dogs, rats, mice, raccoons, skunks, opossums, cows and pigs. Both animals and people may have a wide variety of symptoms, from no symptoms at all to liver and kidney damage and even death.”
Dr. Dana DePerno with Palisades Animal Clinic confirmed their office has seen an increase in cases.
“Yes, we have seen an increase in leptospirosis cases that seem to be stemming from indoor daycare facilities,” she explained.
Veterinary Public Health noted the spike in cases in July 2021, reporting that a number of dogs may have been exposed at a boarding facility in Santa Monica, with others being exposed at dog parks and beaches.
According to data shared by Veterinary Public Health, between 2008 and 2020 there were 88 cases of leptospirosis in dogs throughout the county. Between April and August 18 of this year, the number of cases reported has been 80, 56 of which were lab-confirmed and 24 suspected.
Among reported cases, 55 dogs were symptomatic, with two asymptomatic and 23 missing data. Fifty-two were reported to have boarding/daycare, with eight having no boarding/daycare and 20 missing data.
Fifteen dogs were reported to have visited a dog park, with four reporting no dog park visited and 61 missing data.
While many infected pets require hospitalization or extensive care, to date, there have been no reports of humans becoming ill after exposure to infected dogs.
“The leptospira serovar canicola is the likely cause of this outbreak,” according to Veterinary Public Health. “Dogs are the primary reservoir for the canicola serovar, not wildlife or rats. As a result, this outbreak is driven by dog-to-dog transmission of the bacteria in group settings such as boarding kennels or dog daycare, leading to a higher number of cases than what has been seen in recent years.”
Bacteria is spread through the urine of an infected animal, which can get into water or soil and survive for weeks to months, according to Veterinary Public Health.
“Animals and humans become infected when they come into direct contact with the contaminated water or soil,” Veterinary Public Health reported. “The bacteria enters through cuts in the skin or through the eyes, nose or mouth (drinking contaminated water) or through inhalation.”
It is usually between five and 14 days from the time of exposure to the development of disease, but it can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more. Those who suspect signs of leptospirosis are encouraged to contact their veterinarian.
Symptoms, which are variable, may include fever, lethargy, low appetite, vomiting, and increased or decreased urination and thirst, according to Veterinary Public Health. Diarrhea and liver damage or yellowed mucus membranes, including gums, can also be symptoms.
Leptospirosis is treatable in dogs with antibiotics, often with a more favorable outcome when treated early.
“Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is preventable with a vaccination, so we are encouraging anyone who has their dogs in group play environments, including dog parks or boarding, to get their dogs vaccinated,” DePerno concluded.
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