Veterinarians warn about potentially deadly dog disease

Leptospirosis can be transmitted from animals to humans

(Credit: CNN/KABB)

WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — Veterinarians are warning dog owners about a bacterial infection their pets can contract — leptospirosis, nicknamed “lepto” — that can potentially be deadly, and can even spread to humans.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has warned pet owners leptospirosis is on the rise in the state.

Dr. Heather Lopes at the Washington County Veterinary Hospital in Rhode Island said Friday a “lepto” outbreak can happen anywhere. “It’s carried by wildlife and spread through the urine — into areas where there’s stagnant water, even running water.”

Though Dr. Lopes said she only sees rare cases of the virus every few years — Rhode Island hasn’t had a notable outbreak since 2010, she said — vets are starting to recommend a leptospirosis vaccine for pets.

“Usually if an animal is sick, they’re lethargic, they’re vomiting, they have diarrhea, fever — We did have a lot of sick and ill patients [in 2010] but only six of those we had at our practice were tested,” Dr. Lopes explained.

Of those six cases, Maximus, a miniature dachshund, is the only one who survived the illness.

His owner, Beverly Banfield, said lepto hit him like a ton of bricks.

“He was very vibrant. He was never sick a day in his life,” she said. “So, when he came down with this, it was very unusual. The very first questions [about illness] are — was he poisoned? Did he drink something off the garage floor? What could this possibly be? And then, there was the outbreak.”

While Maximus is still going, he’s enduring kidney disease and frequent treatments. Dr. Lopes says avoiding that kind of painful condition is worth it to get the vaccine shot.

“He contracted the disease when he was six. They never expected him to live beyond nine,” said Banfield. “He’s at almost thirteen at this point, but twice a week fluids, and twice a week I make a batch of his special food — and he needs specialized care.”

In fact, leptospirosis can be transmitted from animals to humans. While it’s not deadly, it can cause kidney and liver damage.