Veterinarians Warn Dog Owners of Deadly Bacteria Spreading Across the Country

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 24, 2024

A deadly bacterial illness is spreading across dog parks and daycares in the US. Veterinarians warn dog owners that vaccinating their pets is the best way to protect them from a fatal case of leptospirosis.

As vaccine skepticism increases nationwide, pets begin to experience some of the negative side effects of foregoing preventative medicine. Leptospirosis, a completely preventable disease, has increased in deadly cases this past year.

What Is Leptospirosis?

This deadly virus is a blood infection that can easily be passed from animals to humans. The symptoms in dogs present as fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, diarrhea and depression.

A dog with a white and brown body and a white head lays in the sand with its head down

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The symptoms will vary with each animal, but the outcome will be fatal if left untreated. Prognosis can only be made at a veterinarian’s office; pet owners are encouraged to seek medical treatment if their pets exhibit any of these tell-tale signs.

Half of Dog Owners are Hesitant to Vaccinate Their Pets

In a study presented by Boston University, researchers found that more than 40 percent of dog owners believed vaccines were unsafe. Public perception of vaccines has declined since the COVID-19 outbreak sewed mistrust of medical professionals in some groups.

A man wearing a blue and white plaid shirt holds a very small puppy

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Skeptics now believe that dog owners also have negative views of vaccines for their pets. However, experts say that vaccinating pets is the best way to stop preventable diseases from spreading while allowing your dog social freedom. 

Extreme Cases Are Fatal

Emmanuelle Butty, an assistant clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts, warns that the extreme cases will lead to kidney failure and even death.

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She also noted that the illness is spreading quite quickly throughout New England. Spring and fall are the most common times vets see the illness come into their clinics. Owners are reminded that vaccinations are the safest way to protect their pets from this bacterial illness.

Treatment Is Available for Bacterial Infection

Luckily, if the illness is caught early enough, it can be treated with simple antibiotics.

A man wearing a black mask and blue scrubs holds a corgi dog next to him

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However, even if the disease is treated in the early stages, dogs can still be affected by lifelong complications.

Many Dogs Receive Complicated Kidney Treatments

One of the worst outcomes for dogs who contract leptospirosis is complex kidney failure. Many owners will choose to put their dogs through harsh kidney dialysis to save their lives.

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Butty noted in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine that in a study of 22 dogs receiving kidney dialysis, only 16 recovered. She went on to say that, “All of them would have died without dialysis because their kidneys were completely shut down,” Butty said. “But almost 75 percent of them were able to get out of the hospital. Even if things look really bad, there is a decent chance we will be able to save this animal. If we buy time we have a chance that the body will recover.”


Dogs That Recover Have Life Long Injuries

The study’s results on affected dogs also showed that even if a dog does recover from harsh treatments, it will likely sustain injuries to other internal organs.

A dog with a long nose and long limbs lays on a brown leather couch

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In this case, the dog will have a shorter life span and experience complications as it ages.


Kidney Dialysis Is Expensive

While complicated treatments are available for dogs that are unlucky enough to catch the illness, many veterinarians agree that the treatment for kidney disease is extremely expensive.

Lazy dog resting on sofa near anonymous female owner taking notes in planner

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The treatments can also last up to two years to have a dog’s kidneys return to normal function.


How Is the Illness Spread?

The illness can be spread in a number of ways; the most common method of contraction is for dogs to drink from the same bowl or puddle as a contagious animal.

Four unique dogs are being held by a leash inside of a dog park with red brick pavement

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Dog parks, doggy daycares, and even popular hiking trails can all be hot spots for the disease. Owners are warned to keep puppies too young for all their vaccinations away from other dogs and populous places.


Prevention Begins With Vaccinations

Aside from keeping your dog inside for its entire life, the best way to avoid the illness is to keep it updated with its vaccinations.

Two dark grey pitbulls run together at a large park

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Butty says about the illness, “We have a good way to prevent the disease and to prevent the most severe cases of the disease, and that is the vaccine.”


Complications From Vaccinations Are Rare

The vast majority of dogs will never experience any negative side effects from vaccines. In fact, the benefits of avoiding diseases like parvo, heartworm, and leptospirosis far outweigh the discomfort that vaccines cause.

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Butty notes that most dogs might feel under the weather for a day or two after receiving the vaccine. Otherwise, the shots are safe for all dogs.


Short-Term Discomfort Is Worth the Trade

Many veterinarians agree with Butty that a few days of rest far outweighs the possibility of a dog ever needing kidney dialysis.

A golden retriever at the vet receiving a vaccination from a woman wearing blue scrubs and a stethescope

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Butty says of the short-term discomfort that, “I’ll take the vaccine reaction any day over ending up on dialysis because of complete kidney failure,” Butty continued. “Dogs need to be vaccinated.”