A Bacteria That Can Kill Your Dog.

by Elizabeth F. Baird, DVM, CVPP, CCRT, CVMA

It may be a rare bacteria, but it is ever-present in Florida.  Dr. Baird, of Country Oaks Animal Hospital in Palm Harbor, weighed in on Leptospirosis for The New Barker dog magazine, a year ago in the Spring 2016 issue. It is just as relevant today,  as cases of Leptospirosis is rising.

Leptospirosis, a disease common to many mammals, is caused by a type of bacterium called Leptospira. It seems to be on the rise in dogs the last few decades and has shifted from a rural disease to a suburban and even urban problem. Dr. Carsen Brandt of the Emergency and Critical Care Service at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has reported a tenfold increase in cases since 2013. There have been fairly recent outbreaks in Fresno, California and Denver, Colorado. Dr. Richard Goldstein of the Animal Medical Center in New York City says he sees cases of Lepto every week, including in dogs that have never left Manhattan. So much for the image of this as a rural disease.

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A typical scenario goes something like this: A raccoon urinates on the grass in a suburban yard or in a puddle at a park during the night. A dog then sniffs or licks at that curious odor while out for a walk the next day. Bingo! The dog has now been exposed to one of the eight strains of Leptospira bacteria that can cause Leptopsirosis in the dog. The bacteria quickly begin to replicate and move into various target tissues such as the kidneys, liver, spleen and central nervous system. The infected dog typically begins to show signs of illness within 7 days of exposure. The severity of the illness can vary considerably, from mild and vague symptoms to acute kidney failure and fairly sudden death.

So, what other wildlife carry these Leptospira bacteria in their urine? In addition to the ever-present raccoon, mice and rats are common carriers of Leptospira and this includes the ubiquitous wood rats and citrus rats that populate most of Florida. The opossum, skunk, deer, cow and pig can carry other infectious strains of Leptospira bacteria. There is some question as to whether squirrels are also carriers for Leptospira.

If a dog contracts Leptospirosis, what happens next?

Unfortunately, the clinical symptoms of the disease are not very distinctive, making diagnosis trickier. The affected pet will usually be lethargic and have a poor appetite, sometimes showing signs of a fever. The majority of affected animals will have some vomiting and about a third will have diarrhea and weight loss. None of this is terribly specific and it sounds like many other illnesses. Routine lab tests may show significant abnormalities in the urinalysis, as well as the kidney and liver values. None of these are terrifically specific either, but it does start to help narrow the diagnosis list. At this stage, the veterinarian is likely looking to test for Leptospirosis. The older Lepto test can take up to a week and won’t catch every patient. A newer type of test, an Elisa test, can be run right in the hospital in under 30 minutes. It’s still not perfect, but it will detect many patients right away. A patient with these symptoms is likely already on intravenous fluids and medication to help with the vomiting and discomfort. A diagnosis of Leptospirosis indicates a need for very specific antibiotics as not all antibiotics will do the trick. If IV fluid support and the appropriate antibiotics are started in a timely manner, the prognosis is good and most patients (80-plus percent) will recover. If it takes longer to diagnose due to the vague symptoms or a delay in seeking medical care, the dog may suffer kidney failure, but many can still be saved with dialysis.

Did I mention that you can catch Leptospirosis too? Yes, it is actually one of the most common infectious diseases in humans worldwide. Thankfully, it is not common in humans in the U.S., at least outside of Hawaii. The odds of catching it directly from your dog are pretty slim, but if your dog has been diagnosed with Leptospirosis, your vet will give you detailed instructions on methods to protect yourself and family. You are far more likely to catch it from swimming in rivers, streams or walking through swampy water. In 2005, 44 out of 192 adventure racers in Tampa (23% of the participants) caught Leptospirosis from running through swampy water. There was an earlier outbreak in Illinois in Triathlon runners. Dogs can contract it directly from contaminated water as well.

Given the large population of potential wildlife carriers and the difficulty in diagnosing the disease early, prevention is a more prudent approach in the areas where Leptospirosis is a risk. The older vaccines (1970’s and 80’s) carried a higher risk of vaccine reaction and only covered two strains. Because of this, they had fallen out of favor in that era and were used only in the higher risk rural areas. Leptospirosis was labeled a non-core vaccine to use only for “at risk” populations. But the definition of which dogs are at risk seems to have shifted significantly in the last decade or two. The rural outdoor large breed dog that was the poster child for Leptospirosis in 1985 is now a fluffy suburban or urban Shih Tzu or Cocker Spaniel. We currently have Leptospirosis vaccines that protect for four strains. They have a much lower risk of vaccine reaction than the older vaccines – and are more highly purified as vaccine manufacturing technology has evolved over the last 30 years. Some internists believe that even though our current vaccines only cover four of the Leptospira serovars, there may be cross-reactivity and some protection from the other infective strains as well. Leptospirosis is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs, regardless of the strain or serovar of Leptospira bacteria involved. It is a series of two doses given 3-4 weeks apart and then yearly boosters.

If your pet tends to be sensitive to vaccines and you’re worried they may react, have this administered separate from any other injectable vaccines. The more vaccines given in one day, the higher the risk of a vaccine reaction, regardless of which specific vaccinations are given.

Given the changes in Leptopsirosis over the last few decades, from the shifts in which strains are causing disease and the populations of dogs being affected, it is time to rethink our approach to managing this dangerous disease. The vaccines are more protective and less reactive than ever before and our suburban house dogs are at a higher risk than we believed possible even twenty years ago. If your dog is not already protected from Leptospirosis, it may be time for a conversation with your veterinarian about the risk factors in your specific area and whether vaccination is appropriate for your beloved dogs. I can assure you that mine are vaccinated against this potentially deadly disease. Raccoons, opossums and citrus rats are rampant in my suburban neighborhood and the risk of potential exposure is real. And all too scary to ignore.

For more on the subject, here is a recent video from CBS Miami.

THE NEW BARKER VETERINARY ADVISORY BOARD INCLUDES: Dr. Elizabeth Baird, Country Oaks Animal Hospital/Palm Harbor; Dr. Mark Brown, Central Animal Hospital/St. Petersburg; Dr. Eddie Garcia, Urgent Pet Care of South Tampa; Dr. Shawna Green, Medicine River Animal Hospital/Madeira Beach; Dr. Timothy Hodge, Harbourside Animal Hospital/Downtown Tampa and Cross Creek Animal Medical Center/Tampa; Dr. Steven Lewis, Davis Island Animal Clinic; Dr. Gregory Todd, Animal Hospital of Dunedin.

What’s So Super About Sunday?

This Sunday in America is Super Bowl Sunday. It’s the New England Patriots vs. the Atlanta Falcons. Earlier this year, Michael Vick made a triumphant return to the Georgia Dome, riding onto the field in a convertible to a raucous ovation. According to a story in USA Today, Vick received by far the loudest ovation from the sellout crowd of 70,835 during a ceremony honoring the final regular-season game at the team’s home of 25 years. This, despite an online campaign calling for the Falcons to revoke their invitation over a 2007 dogfighting case that sent Vick to prison for nearly two years. A decade after his final game with Atlanta, the animosity that Vick’s name once stirred among Atlanta fans appeared to have turned to forgiveness. Not one boo or jeer was heard from the crowd.

The End Of An Era? “There are a lot of people who forgave me,” said Vick before the game. “It gives me another opportunity to show a different side of myself. I’m just thankful I have a lot of supporters.”

And this from Arthur Blank, Falcons owner, “Mike obviously has a great history with us, a great history with the franchise, an important player in our history. Michael represented an important part of my ownership period. I think our fans, based on the response I saw and felt, I think our fans were excited to have him as well.”

Gone But Never Forgotten. Two dogs from Vick’s dogfighting ring Bad Newz Kennels passed away  this month. Best Friends reported that Denzel died on January 10, 2017, nine years after he came to live at the sanctuary.

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Denzel with Best Friend veterinarian Dr. Patricia Patterson.
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Dogtown caregiver Paul Lindley with Denzel.

 

From Denzel’s obituary, Best Friends wrote: “Denzel was a fighter, but not in the way that NFL player Michael Vick wanted him to be. This brave dog fought against the trauma of his past to find happiness and friendship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. He also fought against serious health issues that threatened to take him down, time and again. He suffered from a strain of the blood parasite babesia, which is spread among dogs forced to fight by way of bites. It can be managed but not cured, and each bout takes an increasing toll.”

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Oscar and Rachel Johnson.

Another Victory Dog rescued from Bad Newz Kennels in 2007, passed away on January 15. Oscar lived with Rachel Johnson since 2012. This was posted on Oscar’s Facebook page: “Friends, on Sunday, I let Oscar go. I’ve watched his bad days start to overshadow the good. So Sunday, we had breakfast in bed, read and cuddled, went to the drive-thru for cheesy burgers…” Oscar’s Facebook page is here.

Michael Vick’s playing days are over. “I’m very content with my career and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m ready to move forward in life.” Vick has recently expressed an interest in coaching.

 

Every Dog Happens For A Reason.

angel_2091-copyMeet Angel, the newest addition to The New Barker staff. Like Bailey, the dog in the movie A Dog’s Purpose,  we’re clueless as to what Angel’s purpose is at the moment. We’re not even certain what compelled us to adopt a puppy at this stage in our lives. It’s been 18 years since we’ve raised one, and evidently our memory bank was devoid of all that is involved. Maybe it has something to do with her name, given to her before we adopted her from VIP Rescue Florida in Clearwater. Divine intervention for two broken hearts?

Our home, over the last 10 years, was complete with four dogs. As editor of The New Barker dog magazine, there are many opportunities for dogs to cross my path, increasing the odds of falling in love, over and over again. In A Dog’s Purpose, Bailey falls in love over and over again with a different human. Without love, after all, what is the purpose of life?

While attending this year’s Florida Gulf Coast Classic Clusters dog show with a dear friend, she mentioned why she enjoyed coming to the show so much. “I love watching you interact with the dogs, because every dog you see, it’s as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a dog.”

Over the course of eight months during this past year, we lost our two Cockapoos, Zoe and Chloe. They had been a big part of our lives for 18 years, and boom, just like that, we were a family of four – two humans and two canines.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult getting over the loss of a dog is the simple fact that they are so dependent on us. They won’t “grow up” and develop a new circle of friends, go off to college, establish a career and start families. They leave us only when their time is up, whenever or however that may be. Their departure opens a space in the heart that may never be filled. But, what if, having known that one dog, a place is opened in the heart to make room for more love, compassion, faith and hope? Room for another dog, whose purpose may not be clear at first.

With it’s cool soundtrack, A Dog’s Purpose is not just a story about dogs. It’s as much a story about humans, with our foibles, our loneliness and our ability to forgive and love again. Yes, it’s a love story that will make you laugh and cry, then laugh again, which is exactly what dogs do.

While Angel’s purpose may not be clear to us, for now, she is helping to mend a pair of broken hearts. And, at present, that’s all we can ask of a nine-week old puppy.

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Angel’s Adventures will be a weekly feature of The New Barker blog, so be sure to sign up. Follow The New Barker on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for a cuteness overload of Angel as we follow her growth and discover just what her purpose in our lives will be.

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A Christmas Miracle.

The holidays may be over, but the spirit of the season of giving and hope lives on in this dog story.

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Macho. Photograph, courtesy of Feeling Fine Canine and Equine Rescue.

Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS) is a loud place, often crowded with more dogs than space. Macho was one of the lucky ones. On December 12, volunteers from a West Palm Beach rescue group, Feeling Fine Canine and Equine Rescue, pulled Macho. He was emaciated, very weak and looked as if he had lost his will to live.

He was immediately taken to Gardens Animal Hospital for tests. Along with a diagnosis of pancreatitis, high levels of calcium in his blood indicated Macho had cancer. Tracey Godin, founder and operator of Feeling Fine Canine and Equine Rescue, said that Macho was able to spend Christmas with her family. Caela, Godin’s daughter, hand-fed Macho and slept on the floor with him. Macho must have known he was loved. Just 18 days after he was pulled from MDAS, Macho peacefully passed away.

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Caela and Macho. Photograph, courtesy of Feeling Fine Canine and Equine Rescue.

The following day, Godin’s mother was scheduled for surgery that would require her to be under anesthesia for four hours. Prior to her mom’s surgery, Godin said a prayer, asking everyone she knew in Heaven to keep her mother safe.

“After surgery, my mom told my aunt that she spoke to my father, who had passed away last February,” said Godin. “In the hospital room, I said to mom, ‘so I hear dad visited you?’ And mom answered, ‘Dad has Macho…’ She repeated it several times. The crazy thing is, mom had only met Macho one time for about 10 minutes.”

Do dogs go to Heaven? In the 18 days Macho was with Godin and her family, he managed to touch the hearts of many. Why, out of all the dogs at MDAS, was Macho pulled by this rescue group? Some people believe there are no coincidences in life. There seems to be a guardian angel watching over a family who gave their hearts to him for a short period of time. Peace, Macho.

 

Belle Of The Ball.

As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, Lucy is already jumping around in the car.

Florida municipalities, hip on the dog revolution, open up their public pools for dog swims at the end of their swim seasons. Public pools in Fort Lauderdale, Largo, St. Petersburg and Tampa have been doing it for several years now, much to the delight of their canine citizens. On Saturday, November 5, the City of Tampa hosts Drool In The Pool Doggie Paddle at Copeland Park Pool in North Tampa (11001 North 15th Street). There is a $5 per dog charge. Humans enter free (but no humans are allowed in the pool). Next Saturday at Largo’s Highland Family Aquatic Center, the annual Soggy Doggy Splash Party will be from 11a-1p (400 Highland Avenue). There is a bonus day on Sunday from Noon-3p. Again, this is strictly a dog swim. No humans are allowed in the pools.

Lucy, a Labrador Retriever who lives with her human Laura Allen, loves the Soggy Doggy Splash Party. The following is an excerpt from a feature that appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of The New Barker dog magazine.

As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, before even seeing the other dogs or the pool, Lucy is already jumping around in the car.  When the gates to the pool open, this dog is ready for some serious play time. She takes off with the other dogs, barely looking back at Laura. Occasionally, Lucy will look up and around for Laura, just to make sure. She gives Laura a reassuring smile before going back to playing.

Oliver and his human drive from South Tampa each year to attend Largo's Soggy Doggy Splash Day. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Lucy and Oliver. Oliver and his human drive from South Tampa each year to attend Largo’s Soggy Doggy Splash Party. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker dog magazine.

Lucy is the life of any party and has never met another dog she didn’t like. One moment she is relentlessly flirting with her best friend, Catahoula mix Oliver, adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The next moment, she’s taking her toy to another human she doesn’t even know, coaxing him to throw it. No one can resist Lucy’s charm or her invitation to play ball. No one. She will continue to pick up and drop the toy in front of a stranger, until he finally picks it up to throw it into the pool. Mission accomplished, and off she runs.

"I don't know you. But, throw my toy and we will be BFF," coaxes Lucy to a stranger. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Throw My Toy. Now. “I don’t know you. But, throw my toy and we will be BFF,” coaxed Lucy to a stranger. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.

Toy-driven and focused, Lucy will dive down three to five feet in the water to retrieve a toy. She loves swimming with Laura in the Gulf or in a swimming pool, so she has definitely honed her aquatic skills. That came in handy during the 25-yard swim, another event held during the Soggy Doggy Day Splash Party. On this particular day, there was a massive start at the relay, as the dogs all jumped in the water at the same time. Every dog was swimming in all directions. Every dog, that is, except Lucy. With an almost inaudible whistle from Laura, Lucy quickly spotted her mark at the other end of the pool, and was soon cutting through the water like an arrow. Of course it didn’t hurt that Laura held one of Lucy’s toys in her hand. Advantage: Team Lucy, winner of the 2013 Soggy Doggy Splash Party 25-yard swim.

Lucy checks out how far down her toy is before diving in after it. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Lucy checks out how far down her toy is before diving in after it. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker dog magazine.

Lucy embodies the complete and utter joy of a dog, and Laura brings the best of that out in her. They go almost everywhere together when Laura is not working on location or on assignment as a professional photographer. Laura, who completely appreciates our domestication of dogs as a society, also believes dogs should be allowed to be dogs. Like children, dogs sometimes like to get dirty, and roll around in the grass, or mud.  Laura believes in taking it all in stride.

“If I know we’re going to a place where Lucy will get dirty, I just make it a bath day. I try to live in the moment, just like Lucy does, and to not stress about the little things,” said Laura.

Lucy. The Belle of the Ball. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker Dog Magazine.
Lucy. The Belle of the Ball. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker Dog Magazine.