Animal Health Alert: The vaccine L.A. County is now recommending for dogs

Deanna Barnert

What is canine leptospirosis... and can humans catch it?

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Should your dog be vaccinated against leptospirosis?/ photo by Deanna Barnert

(Los Angeles) While your veterinarian may have suggested avoiding giving your dog a leptospirosis vaccination in the past, the L.A. County Department of Public Health sent local vets an Animal Health Alert in July that calls for a change in protocol. With an increase in reported confirmed and suspect Lepto in local dogs this summer, humans can get this disease, too.

One of the main reasons hikers and campers boil or treat lake and stream water before ingesting it is to kill dangerous bacteria like Leptospira interrogans. Contracted through direct contact, ingestion, or inhalation of contaminated water or soil, this unseen microorganism can cause Lepto in humans and dogs, as well as the mammals running around our neighborhoods, like rats and raccoons. Cats can also contract it but are more resistant.

According to an Animal Health Alert sent out to veterinarians in early July, several recent cases saw local dogs hospitalized and in need of extensive care. The breakouts seemed to be affecting dogs who’ve spent time in L.A.’s West Side or San Fernando Valley. While the alert mentions wildlife and rodents as a culprit in spreading Lepto, it also suggests several dogs contracted the disease from an unnamed boarding facility in Santa Monica.

Just a few months ago, many veterinarians shied away from giving the Leptospira vaccine to dogs. “Previously there has been concern about vaccine reactions from the Leptospira vaccine,” the L.A. County alert explains. “However, current vaccines containing leptospiral antigen have not been shown to be more reactive than other vaccines for dogs.”

With the increase in canine lepto cases, the country veterinarian is recommending the quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four strains of the bacteria for all dogs at risk – which means any pet that spends time in the outdoors, boarding kennels, or doggy daycare centers.

In addition to asking veterinarians to get their at-risk patients vaccinated, L.A. County wants locals to protect their dogs by keeping wildlife and rodents away from their homes.

“Keep bushes and shrubbery trimmed, close off outdoor crawl spaces, do not leave out pet food and water bowls, and routinely clean food or water bowls that may have been contaminated by wildlife,” the alert reads. “If [you] suspect an infestation of rodents, [you] should consult an exterminator.”

And whether you’re hiking Malibu Canyon or walking in your neighborhood, it’s best to keep your four-legged pals close, avoid walking them through puddles and floods, and feed them the same, clean water you’re drinking.

What does someone with Lepto look like?

Some dogs with Lepto won’t show signs and will recover without issues. In fact, L.A. County believes many go undiagnosed, with only 77 cases reported in dogs between 2008-2020. The new Animal Health Alert doesn’t offer any updated numbers, but with reports of cases on the rise, pets whose cases are reported tend to face a difficult battle.

Lepto attacks the kidneys, so pet parents should look for symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Refusal to eat
  • Severe weakness and depression
  • Stiffness
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Inability to have puppies

In addition to the above list from the CDC, the L.A. County alert also mentions possible liver damage or yellowed gums.

Humans infected with Lepto will exhibit similar flu-like symptoms, as well as more serious symptoms like kidney damage and respiratory distress. While humans usually contract this disease from contaminated water and not pets, your vet will surely tell you to take precautions if your dog has become ill with Lepto.

In both animals and humans, Lepto is treated with antibiotics. If caught late, however, it may lead to organ damage and require treatments like dialysis and hydration therapy – or worse, lead to organ failure and death.

As pet owners know, our search for answers online always leads to the same key piece of advice: If you have concerns about possible exposure to an infected animal, contact your veterinarian and/or your physician.

You can find more information about Lepto via the L.A. County's Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites. Depending on your neighborhood, your local L.A. Count Vector Control agency may be able to assist you with issues like rodent infestations, raccoons, or other mammals in your neighborhood that can carry Lepto.

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Deanna Barnert is a Los Angeles native and entertainment journalist with thousands of news stories, features and profiles published internationally. A member of the Television Critics Association, she’s written for "Emmy" magazine, MSN.com and SheKnows.com, served as News Editor for "Soaps In Depth," and interviewed some of your favorite stars and creators. A true Angeleno, Deanna knows L.A. is the best place to live... and the worst! She made her hometown more accessible to newcomers via her contribution to "The Complete Resident’s Guide to Los Angeles" and its pocket mini, "The Essential Tourist Guide" -- and now she's doing it for NewsBreak! Deanna is an avid traveler who lived in Madrid, Spain, for two years and did some time in NYC, but she always comes home. Check out what Deanna’s doing now by following @TVDeeva on social media.

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