After a record-breaking wet and wild spring across Iowa, it seems as if we are on-track to see two dangerous pet illnesses become the rising stars of summer: Lyme disease and Leptospirosis.

But these are not the kind of stars your dog wants to dance with. Both Lyme and Lepto can pose a serious, if not fatal, risk to your pet’s health. Luckily, there are preventive measures you can take to protect your four-legged friend from contracting these illnesses.

What do you know about Lyme disease and Leptospirosis? Read on to find out more about what these diseases are and how you can protect your pet this season and in the years to come.

Lyme Disease and Pets

Most of us are at least familiar with the infamous tick-borne illness that is Lyme disease – but did you know that pets, as well as people, are susceptible to contracting the disease?

Lyme disease is contracted when an infected deer tick attaches itself to your pet for a blood meal. If the tick in question has previously fed on the blood of an already-infected mammal, it will carry the infection with them from host to host, spreading the disease in an exchange of fluids while it feeds. Infection typically occurs after the infected tick has been attached / feeding for 48 hours.

Within a few days of the initial infection, you may notice some lameness and inflammation in your dog’s joints. This lameness may come and go, and even shift from leg to leg as it does. These are the first signs of infection, and should not be ignored!

Other signs of Lyme disease include:

  • A stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever, lack of appetite, and depression
  • Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
  • Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare
  • Nervous system complications (rare)

While it is possible to mitigate Lyme disease in pets with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, the process is long and not always fail-safe. In fact, Lyme disease is notorious for masking its symptoms and appearing to be cured, only to make a come back – sometimes years later – and needing to be treated, again.

Protecting Pets from Lyme Disease

Your first line of defense in protecting your pet from Lyme disease (and other tick-borne illnesses) is the regular and sustained use of a monthly parasite preventive.

At Animal Family Veterinary Care Center, we recommend the Interceptor, Bravecto, and NexGard lines of flea and tick preventives and are happy to discuss which product is best for your individual pet and their lifestyle.

It can be tempting to think that indoor-only pets aren’t at risk for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, but that’s simply not true. Ticks are nature’s hitchhikers, and can easily hop a ride on your clothing and outdoor gear, only to find themselves at home in your home, and hungry for meal – on your pet! For this reason alone (and trust us, there are others), it’s vital to keep both indoor and outdoor pets on routine parasite preventives.

In addition to your pet’s parasite preventive, you can help protect your pet from Lyme disease by performing regular and through tick checks on your pet after being outdoors – even if just at the dog park or a neighborhood stroll. Likewise, keep long grasses and low-slung branches to a minimum on your property, as these are a tick’s favorite spots to lay-in-wait for a meal to pass by.

Leptospirosis and Pets

Leptospirosis (or Lepto, for short) is a bacterial infection found in dogs that can cause an array of health issues, including liver and kidney failure.

Leptospirosis is spread via the urine of contaminated animals, and is frequently contracted when a pet drinks from a water source (such as a puddle or pond) or otherwise consumes a substance (grass, random gross things on the sidewalk, etc.) that has been contaminated with the Leptospira bacterium.

Signs of leptospirosis include:

  • Sudden fever and illness
  • Sore muscles, reluctance to move
  • Stiffness in muscles, legs, stiff gait
  • Shivering
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination progressing to inability to urinate
  • Rapid dehydration
  • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Diarrhea – with or without blood in stool
  • Dark red speckled gums (petechiae)
  • Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes – anemic symptoms
  • Spontaneous cough
  • Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse
  • Runny nose
  • Swelling of the mucous membrane
  • Mild swelling of the lymph nodes

Depending on the severity of the infection, leptospirosis in pets can typically be treated with antibiotics and supportive care. However, the risk of permanent kidney or liver damage is prevalent, even with successful treatment.

Protecting Pets Against Lepto

The most effective means of protecting your pet against Leptospirosis is vaccination. The vaccination is available to dogs over 12 months of age, and should be administered yearly, thereafter.

The vaccination is not only recommended to any dog spending time around other animals, especially outdoors, but is also required of any dog wishing to board at our facility. To that point, any reputable boarding facility should require this vaccination, and if they don’t – do not board your dog there!

Beyond that, try to keep your pet from drinking contaminated water (always carry fresh water and a collapsible bowl with you, to provide a fresh, safe alternative) and eating anything… suspect.

Please contact Animal Family Veterinary Care Center for more information on pet vaccinations and parasite preventives. Our dedicated team is always here for you and is happy to discuss which options are best for you and your pet.