Foxy spent her life visiting the horses next door, racing the neighbor’s dogs through the brush, and harassing squirrels who lived in the towering pine trees behind my grandparents’ house. After jumping through leaf piles my cousins and I worked so hard to rake, she would plop down to take a long nap in the sun. She seemed to belong more to Mother Nature than she did to my grandparents, but she always came home for supper.
Love for the outdoors increased Foxy’s risk of exposure to leptospirosis, so my grandparents always made sure she received the yearly vaccine. Without the vaccine, Foxy would have contracted the serious bacterial infection (also called lepto for short) if she drank or swam in water that had been contaminated with the urine of infected wildlife, ate an infected animal, or was bitten by an infected animal. Because lepto is zoonotic (it can be passed to humans), her yearly vaccination also helped reduce the chances of human exposure. While it is possible for pet dogs to spread the disease to their human family, these cases fortunately do not occur frequently.
If Foxy contracted lepto, she might have experienced loss of appetite, fever, extreme lethargy, severe dehydration, urinary and gastrointestinal issues, bleeding, jaundice, breathing problems, and organ failure. Lepto is treatable with antibiotics and hospitalization if it is caught quickly, but can be fatal without early treatment. The disease can be difficult to diagnose in time because these signs can vary depending on the individual and could also point to a number of different illnesses.
Indoor dogs who only go outside for leashed walks and are not permitted to drink standing water or come in contact with wildlife have a lower risk of exposure than dogs like Foxy. These lower risk dogs often do not have a need for the lepto vaccine, so they should continue to avoid contact with urine, standing water, swimming in lakes or streams, and wildlife.
Because these restrictions did not fit in with Foxy’s adventurous lifestyle, yearly vaccination was essential to make sure she was fully protected. While vaccinated, she was able to participate in all of her favorite outdoor activities without contracting the serious disease.
Dogs who live in rural areas or frequently participate in outdoor activities are at risk of exposure to leptospirosis. To reduce this risk, dogs who spend lots of time outdoors and near wildlife should receive a yearly lepto vaccination. Unvaccinated dogs should not be allowed to come in contact with standing water or wildlife.