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Cases of leptospirosis in dogs on the rise in southern Ontario, experts warn

Click to play video 'Southern Ontario sees spike in leptospirosis cases in dogs, experts warn' Southern Ontario sees spike in leptospirosis cases in dogs, experts warn
An Ajax, Ont., pet owner is warning people to protect their pets after his dog was diagnosed with leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can be fatal if untreated. Jasmine Pazzano has more on the disease that some animal-health experts in the province are seeing become more widespread.

Animal health experts throughout the province are warning dog owners that they are seeing more cases of a bacterial disease that can be fatal to their pets: leptospirosis.

A Guelph, Ont., doctor who specializes in bacterial infections in animals and humans says last year, he saw a “pretty remarkable” rise in cases, while a Durham Region veterinarian says she is seeing that trend this year as well.

“We know that southern Ontario is a hotbed,” said Dr. Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph. “It’s hard to reduce [dogs’] exposure because they’re picking it up in their environment.”
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Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and many animals, and it is “spread through contact with water, soil or food contaminated by urine from infected animals,” according to the Government of Canada. In more severe cases, it can lead to kidney and liver failure.

Dr. Sasha Black, who runs veterinary clinics throughout Durham Region, says she has diagnosed four dogs with the disease this year. In the previous seven years, she saw only one dog test positive for it.

She says the increase is likely because as we develop areas where wild animals live and displace them from their natural habitats, they move into people’s backyards. These animals may carry this disease, and if they urinate in the water, dogs can “just lick the still water… and it’s transmissible that way.

“If the case is really bad, you have to hospitalize the [dogs]… for a very long time to flush their system,” she said. “If it’s not diagnosed early enough, leptospirosis is fatal.”

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Black recently treated two-year-old Kovu for the disease. Kovu’s owner says he learned about it only when his dog was diagnosed earlier this month.

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“This has [been] a shock to us,” said Rick Fernandes, whose dog, a Havanese, is now recovering at home.

He says he was confused when he first started seeing changes in Kovu. “We noticed him becoming lethargic,” said the Ajax, Ont., resident. “He was lying down a lot.”

The fatigue Kovu experienced is one of the most common signs of the disease. Other symptoms include “fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move and increased thirst.”

Fernandes says Kovu received every vaccine except for the one that prevents the disease. Weese says the shot is one of the most effective ways to prevent a pet from getting it.

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Black says she gives the initial shot to dogs at 12 weeks old, then a booster at 16 weeks old and a vaccination a year after that. From then on, dogs can get the leptospirosis shot annually, and it costs about $30.

Another way of preventing the disease, she says, is by keeping an eye on your dog in wooded areas. “Keep your pets from licking stagnant water,” she said.

She also urges dog owners to visit their vets to give them annual checkups.

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