Recent canine illnesses in Tacoma, Washington have left pet owners with few answers. Lab tests have ruled out leptospirosis, the original diagnosis, as the cause of at least two dog fatalities. Other dogs have also fallen ill, but pet owners are still awaiting test results that can confirm, or rule out, the potentially fatal infection.
Leptospirosis is a condition that affects both animals and humans. The infection is caused by leptospira bacteria, which is transmissible through the skin in some animals. The bacteria has a signature corkscrew shape and is spread to humans through contaminated pet urine.
Typically, dogs are infected with leptospirosis after drinking water that is contaminated with the bacteria. Runoff from farmlands is one known source of the leptospira. The bacteria is also spread to dogs through contact with an infected animal, contaminated soil, or infected animal urine.
While the symptoms are very similar to leptospirosis, the current pet fatalities aren’t thought to be caused by the infection. Other potential causes include infection caused by another bacteria and accidental poisoning. Some poisons cause symptoms that are similar to leptospira infection, such as kidney failure and severe swelling.
The best way to keep your dog healthy is to avoid areas where leptospira bacteria are known to live, such as rivers located near farmlands. Regular veterinarian visits and vaccinations, including leptospirosis vaccinations, are recommended. Leptospirosis vaccinations are particularly important if you live in a rainy or humid climate.
You can protect your pet from serious illnesses by taking precautionary measures, such as bringing your pet clean drinking water from home. Avoid puddles of water, and don’t let your dog drink from, or swim in, rivers or other bodies of water.
Avoiding unknown bodies of water also prevents your pet from accidentally consuming potentially fatal toxins. Local experts recommend keeping your dog on a leash and avoiding public parks until the cause of the recent illnesses is identified.
Anyone with a sick pet should visit the vet for treatment. Symptoms to watch for include foaming at the mouth, extreme tiredness and swelling. These symptoms can indicate a medical emergency that should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.