Ocean Beach DOG
Leptospirosis Alert at Ocean Beach

August 16, 2009

We had a recent report of a very young dog who frequents Ocean Beach contracting an unknown illness at the beach and subsequently dying. We are all quite aware that pathogens in the water or on dead or dying animals on the beach can potentially impact the health of beachgoers whether they be canine or human. Pathogens can enter our bodies through a cut or break in our skin, through drinking contaminated water (as dogs sometimes do) or through contact with their eyes, mouth, nose or GI tract such as when dogs investigate (sniff, lick or chew) or roll around on dead or dying animals.

We are familiar with the seasonal algae blooms which can cause bloody diarrhea, but this was something different, and much more serious. The veterinarians did not know what caused this sweet, young dog's death (I happen to personally know the dog and his guardian well) and it is truly heartbreaking. Most important to his guardian was the hope of preventing this horrible outcome for anyone else. Hence, we at OBDOG have put together this informational article to help prevent another dog's death.

Although we do not know for sure what caused the illness, I have decided to update our members about a newly emerging illness at our beaches that could well have been the culprit--leptospirosis. Because the lab tests to confirm this particular illness take weeks to come back-it seems wise to warn guardians it may be here. Any patient with suspected leptospirosis should be placed on antibiotics immediately.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral shaped bacteria called leptospires. It occurs worldwide and can affect humans as well as many wild and domestic animals, including dogs and cats. The disease can be serious for both humans and animals. In people, the symptoms are often like the flu, but sometimes leptospirosis can develop into a more severe, life-threatening illness with infections in the kidney, liver, brain, lung, and heart. For more information on leptospirosis in humans, look at the following site:

The bacteria are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into water, sand or soil and can survive there for weeks to months. If your pet has become infected, your pet may have been drinking, swimming, or walking through contaminated water or come into contact with an infected animal. Leptospirosis is currently a serious problem for marine mammals in our area. The following link explains what the Marine Mammal Center is doing about it.

We all are aware as frequent visitors to Ocean Beach of the recent rise in dead or dying marine mammals on the beach. Please continue to call the Marine Mammal Center to come out and assist the marine mammals (415-289-SEAL). Birds appear unable to contract leptospirosis in the wild except when very young. We have also seen a rise in dead birds (most are young) this summer. Please remember to stay away from these animals and make sure your dogs do the same. It could be a matter of life and death!

The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more. The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary and are nonspecific. Sometimes pets do not have any symptoms. Common clinical signs reported in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and depression, stiffness, or severe muscle pain. Generally younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals. Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If an animal is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and any organ damage may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required.

The risk of a guardian getting leptospirosis from a dog in standard instances is suspected to be low. If common symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, and headaches, occur within 3 weeks after exposure, see your physician. Tests can be performed to see if you have this disease. Dogs also may pass the disease to each other, but this happens very rarely.

In this area, dogs are rarely vaccinated for leptospirosis for a number of reasons. First, because leptospirosis has not been a major risk locally in the past, and also because there are many strains (types) of leptospires, and the vaccine does not provide immunity against all strains. Additionally, we have become more cautious about the administration of vaccines, and the leptospirosis vaccine has a greater incidence of adverse reaction than most other vaccines. Depending upon whether the incidence of leptospirosis increases, the recommendation to vaccinate or not may change.