Heavy Rains Bring Dog-Killing Bacteria to Northern California

Northern California has seen more than its fair share of rain this winter. Given the drought, this of course comes as welcomed news for many. But for a few unlucky dogs, the recent rains most likely contributed to their demise.

As KPIX News reported, the rain could be to blame for a deadly bacteria killing Bay Area dogs. In San Francisco, two pets have already died from the disease. The bacteria is called leptospirosis and it’s often found in puddles and other types of stagnant water.

Goussev says that they’ve already seen five leptospirosis cases in the last two months, which is more than they typically see in an entire year. Two dogs died, including 13-year-old Gertie.

She died at the end of January from becoming infected with leptospirosis. The owner suspects that she was infected at John McLaren Park where she would often play.

What does rain have to do with it? Wildlife including rodents can carry and spread the deadly bacteria. Staci Goussev with San Francisco Veterinary Specialists explains how the rain factors in:

“Every time they urinate that urine gets released into the environment. And with all the rain, it’s getting washed into puddles, lakes, streams and ponds. And that’s how dogs are being exposed to it.”

So the more it rains, the more risk there is of this potentially fatal bacteria spreading.

The good news is that the disease is treatable, but you have to act quickly. Infected pets usually show signs about seven days after exposure. Goussev describes the symptoms: “Most typically, the signs commonly we will see first will be decrease in appetite to complete anorexia, vomiting, some dogs will actually show a yellow tinge to their mucus membranes or skin.”

If you suspect your pet may be infected, call your vet immediately. Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care.

AVMA assures, “When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage.”

What about prevention? Can you vaccinate your dog ahead of time to safeguard against leptospirosis? The short answer: yes.

It’s interesting. I live in San Francisco, and after hearing about the leptospirosis dog deaths, I called my vet. It turns out—my dog Wilbur already received his ‘lepto’ vaccine. I asked if it was among the list of standard vaccinations that they give dogs, and they said no.

So why was Wilbur vaccinated then? Because my vet asked me if we do a lot of outdoor activity near stagnant water. I recall responding with a resounding “Yes!” So I played it safe and he got the shot.

McClaren Park, where Gertie most likely got infected, is one of Wilbur’s regular stomping grounds, and the exact place I pictured when my vet asked me whether we spend time around stagnant water in the outdoors. It has a prominent pond where lots of dogs and their owners flock to for recreational purposes.

I asked the representative at my vet’s office if they are now recommending that all Bay Area pet owners get the lepto vaccination, as opposed to just outdoor gallivanters like me, and she was quick with her yes.

So it seems their lepto vaccination approach has shifted with the heavy rains.

Not to complicate matters, but the lepto vaccination is not without its critics. Just ask Healthy Pets.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) makes the point that the vaccine does not provide 100% protection. “This is because there are many strains (types) of leptospires (the bacteria that causes leptospirosis), and the vaccine does not provide immunity against all strains.”

But here’s the official stance of the American Veterinary Medical Association:

“Currently available vaccines effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs. Reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of the Leptospira bacteria can reduce its chances of infection.”

Goussev says pet owners can minimize exposure by avoiding taking dogs to wet marshy areas. But that’s a tall order when you’re used to regular outdoor gallivanting with your dog.

If you want to protect your pet—in addition to getting your pet vaccinated and choosing your destinations carefully, it’s a good idea when you’re in the outdoors to carry fresh water with you so if your dog becomes thirsty, you have a healthy alternative to stagnant water. And keep a watchful eye on pets to prevent unhealthy slurping.

To help prevent leptospirosis infection, the CDC advises that you keep rodent problems (rats, mice or other animal pests) under control, since rodents can carry and spread the bacteria that causes this disease.

Make no mistake—lepto infection is not just a San Francisco concern. Leptospira bacteria love warm humid climates, according to Healthy Pets.

In 2013 Pedro Diniz, DVM, PhD, College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences said, “Lepto is everywhere, and veterinarians are reporting it more and more across the country.”

In recent years, cases have popped up in Fresno, Oregon and the Denver area.

And it’s not just pets that are at risk. Humans can become infected as well, so in addition to safeguarding pets from infection, pet owners should take steps to prevent themselves and others from becoming infected with the disease due to an infected pet.

The CDC provides a complete list prevention guidelines for pets and humans. And here’s its obvious but nonetheless worth-mentioning advice: “Always contact your veterinarian and your physician if you have concerns about a possible exposure to an infected animal.”

154 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Lady F
Lady F3 months ago

Had no idea about this. TY for the education

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Leo C
Leo Custer3 months ago

Thank you for posting

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Dawn E
Dawn E3 months ago

Wow - good to know!

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Elaine W
Elaine W3 months ago

A good alert in unsuspected dangerous situations. Thanks.

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Kay M
Kay M3 months ago

sad.

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J.J. v
J.J. v. Dongen3 months ago

Thank you for this interesting article. I learn new things almost every day.

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Christine Stewart
Christine Stewart3 months ago

Please bring drinking water for your pets, to reduce their desire to drink from puddles, and rinse your dogs after they play in the muck!

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