Bay Street Animal Hospital

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A Story about Leptospirosis—a Deadly Threat to Pets and Humans

By Heather Delice (Coordinator, Bay Street Animal Hospital)

This is the story of my dog Portland and how we found he had Leptospirosis, a deadly bacterial disease caused by the Leptospira bacteria, which is found in contaminated water and soil.

Portland is our 9½-year-old Labrador Retriever, who up until the fall, was in good health. We live in the Westerleigh neighborhood of Staten Island. On nice days, I like to walk Portland and our other dog Pretzel, an 8½-year-old Cockerpoo, in Clove Lakes Park. But for the most part, we stay in the neighborhood. I’m careful to keep my dogs away from puddles or stagnant water and feces. Working in an animal hospital, you learn this early on: Bacteria and parasites are commonly found in puddles, so it is best to steer clear!

In October, Portland started to lose interest in his food, which was odd for him. He will pretty much eat anything and everything — especially fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, he was acting normally. I thought his loss of appetite was due to his getting older and possibly being bored with his food. I tried other brands. He would get excited about each new brand for a day or two. Then he stopped eating altogether. He was sleeping more and acting sluggishly.

I became increasingly worried and brought him in to Bay Street Animal Hospital for blood tests. The initial testing showed elevated kidney levels of urea and creatine, which means his kidneys were not working properly. He was started on intravenous fluids immediately and hospitalized for about a week for observation. It seemed that he might have early kidney disease. I was devastated.

After a week on fluids, his kidney levels actually went down a little, which was promising; however, a few days later, his levels shot back up. A number of other tests were run, including a SNAP 4DX Plus Test (checks for tick-borne and other parasitic diseases); urinalysis (assesses health of kidneys and urinary system); and the SNAP Lepto Test (checks for the presence of the Leptospira bacteria). The Lepto test came back positive! Now we had an explanation of what was making Portland so sick. Now we had hope.

Until very recently, Lepto is not something that we had seen often in veterinary medicine, and Portland had not been showing the common symptoms, except for his decreased appetite. Armed with the new knowledge of the underlying cause of Portland’s illness, a new treatment plan was started. We were hopeful he would recover. Letpo is contagious to other pets and people as well. We tested our other dog, and luckily, he had not contracted Leptospirosis.

It has been three months since the onset of Portland’s illness. He is doing really well. We have his kidney levels routinely checked, and they do show some damage. We are giving Portland kidney supplements, and he is on a special kidney diet. But he is back to his old healthy self again.

After reading up about Leptospirosis to help understand the disease, certain things come to mind. Lepto is most commonly transmitted by the infected urine of other animals, which can be found in contaminated water and soil. This made me think of how much rain we had in August and September and how our yard flooded a few times.

I also remembered a small cut Portland had gotten on the bottom of his paw during one of our walks. At the time I didn’t think anything of it and soaked it in Epsom salt daily until it healed. But maybe that is how he was exposed — the open wound coming into contact with contaminated water.

The reason I wanted to share our story is to create awareness of an uncommon, rarely talked about deadly cross-species disease for pets and humans, which may be on the rise. In the past six months, we have treated at least three other cases of Leptospirosis at BSAH. 

Unfortunately, our pets cannot tell us when something is wrong. If I hadn’t brought Portland in for testing when I did, he most likely would not have survived. It is important to look for odd behavior and other signs and symptoms that something is off with your pet it in order to help get treatment when needed. In the case of my dog Portland, the treatment was life saving.

More information on Leptospirosis may be found at https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html