Polk County just went through the devastation of hurricane Ian but for pet owners, there are still potential threats to deal with. The excessive rain brought flooding and saturated yards and this provides the best condition for the transmission of bacterial and parasitic diseases.
One of the most common threats includes a potentially deadly bacteria called leptospira.
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria that is found in soil and water. There are several different strains of Leptospira bacteria that can cause disease. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people. Infection in humans is characterized by flu-like symptoms but it could also cause acute liver or kidney disease. Infection in dogs can happen in multiple ways but it is commonly caused when their mucous membranes or cuts get in contact while drinking from rivers, streams, ponds, and stagnant water in which infected wildlife have urinated. Therefore the severe water-filled backyards in the aftermath of Ian will be acting as giant Petri dishes.
The thing with leptospirosis is that some dogs show mild if any signs of illness, whereas others get critically ill and even die. Cats seem more resistant to actually developing the disease and I haven't diagnosed feline leptospirosis in almost 30 years in practice.
Symptoms of leptospirosis may include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, and yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes also known as jaundice. It is also common to see affected dogs develop acute kidney failure with or without liver failure. Other less common symptoms include acute pneumonia and acute bleeding disorders characterized by vast amounts of red tinge urine, nosebleeds, or tarry diarrhea. Affected dogs can also accumulate excess fluid in their chest, abdomen, or under the skin. Sadly, all these symptoms could be caused by multiple other conditions and sometimes the diagnosis might be missed.
The history of exposure to water sources, as in the aftermath of Ian, will help direct your veterinarian to do the blood test that specifically detects this bacteria and prompt treatment could save your dog's life. Currently, there are easily available vaccines that effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs, hunting dogs, and lake-loving pups.
If your pet has been diagnosed it is important to take precautions in order to avoid human infection. Consider the infected dog's urine as very infectious and make sure the pets urinate in a secluded place where other pets do not have access. Make sure to follow proper hygiene practices like washing your hands after touching your pet and avoiding any bodily fluids. Make sure to give the life-saving antibiotics as directed by your veterinarian. If you develop any flu-like symptoms, please seek physician care as soon as possible.
The best way to prevent this is to keep your pet vaccinated and away from flooded areas. Please ask your veterinarian for more advice on how to keep your pet safe from this disease.
Dr. Mitsie Vargas is at Orchid Springs Animal Hospital in Winter Haven. She can be reached at drv@osahvets
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Infection caused by bacteria that is found in soil and water.