Lepto: Brad warns nasty bacterial disease could kill your dog

Dog lovers all: Beware of the danger of leptospirosis to your companion. Photo credit: Hong Kong Dog Rescue

Sai Kung dog owners need to be aware of the danger leptospirosis poses to pets. Dr Brad Easton of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital said, “It is a serious disease, more common in wet tropical areas.”


Pampered pooch at Best Friends Vet Hospital

By allowing your dog to run free when hiking or running together, you are taking a risk. If he drinks from stagnant or slow-moving water, he could be struck down by this bacterial disease. Dr Brad said there are many ways dogs, and cats, can be infected (see below).

Trevor Bailey, a Sha Kok Mei resident, tells his painful story:  “I got up one morning. Usually Cookie would come running to me. This day she couldn’t stand. When she did get up, she fell over. I realised immediately she was seriously ill. The day before she had appeared normal. We had hiked on Tai Mo Shan together.”

Trevor said at 6.30 he began ringing around trying to find a vet.  In Sai Kung he could find no-one. “I carried Cookie to the car and drove her all the way to our old vet in Happy Valley. I got her to them just as they were opening up at 8am.”  He stayed while Dr Lloyd Kenda’s colleague tended to Cookie, then left because of work, leaving Cookie in the clinic. “About an hour later I was still in the car when the vet called. ‘Cookie has had a seizure. She has turned orange.  There is not much we can do.'” Trevor said, the pain in his face obvious, “You have to say the awful words.”

Brad said lepto is caused by leptospira bacteria, of which there are a few strains. Dogs are most often affected. Cats are unlikely to get the disease as they spend less time around water.

Stacey waiting for a home at Best Friends: Cats are in less danger from lepto because they spend less time near water

The biggest risk for dogs is exposure to or drinking water contaminated with leptospira spirochetes, rather than exposure to infected animals such as rats, cows or other dogs. Dogs can also be struck if they come into contact with infected urine, or urine-contaminated soil, food or bedding.

The most effective measure to avoid lepto is to ensure your dog does not drink or play in water, especially stagnant water.

Brad recommends vaccination. There are two types of lepto vaccine. Two strains are covered by the annual DHPPiL combination vaccine.  Vaccines will protect dogs from some strains but not all. A booster should be given every 12 months. There is also an individual vaccine for lepto (“Leptovax 4”), which protects against multiple strains. Although the vaccine should enable dogs to develop antibodies to lepto, it’s possible for vaccinated dogs to still contract the disease. However, they will have a better chance of fighting the infection than non-immunised dogs. 

Brad said in some cases dogs that contract the disease will have a mild, short-lived illness and in others they will succumb to severe sickness and die, like Cookie. It is most important is get prompt treatment by your vet. 

Lepto is zoonotic, ie can pass from animals to humans. Brad said if your dog is diagnosed with the disease you need to take precautions yourself, like avoiding contact with his urine and washing your hands after handling him.

Under the microscope, the bug that can kill dogs

Dr Brad Easton, an Australian, moved to Hong Kong in 1998. Best Friends Vet Hospital opened in 2011 with the aim of offering “excellent medical care with a personal touch. We offer services in Sai Kung which have become standard in the biggest hospitals in Hong Kong.”

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