The recent rains have brought about full ponds, canals, and puddles that can harbor many diseases that put your dogs in danger. Bacteria and fungal spores thrive in wet environments. There are two organisms that we must be aware of In our city of 144 lakes: Leptospirosis and Pythiosis.
The bacteria that causes Leptospirosis has several strains and there are vaccines available to cover the four common ones. Transmission of the bacteria is through infected urine from wildlife and especially rodents. What makes it a threat is that Leptospira bacteria can live in soil, ponds, and bodies of water for months! Therefore, dogs and cats that live or spend a lot of time outdoors, especially hunting dogs, are at risk to get this disease. The puddles that form after the rain and persist more than a couple of days could act as reservoirs, so any dog could potentially be infected in their own backyard! If an outdoorsy pet suddenly stops eating, vomits, has a fever or is very weak he needs to be taken to the veterinarian and tested for Leptospirosis. This test can be done right at the office or sent out to a special laboratory. The main concerns are that this disease can cause fatal kidney and/or liver failure pretty quickly. If diagnosed at an early stage, the kidney and liver failure can be reversed with appropriate antibiotics. This bacteria is of zoonotic concern, it means that it can infect humans causing flu-like symptoms that could progress to full kidney failure.
The other organism that could infect and kill our dogs is named Pythium insidiosum. This is a parasitic spore that enters the body through the nose/sinuses, esophagus, or through the skin. The infection can travel and settle in the dog's lungs, brain, sinuses, gastrointestinal tract, or skin. The disease is nicknamed swamp cancer because the affected dogs might have large nonhealing masses in the skin or in the GI tract that resemble tumors and their lymph nodes could be as enlarged as those affected with Lymphoma. The symptoms vary and are extremely easy to confuse with a multitude of diseases. In fact, oftentimes Pythiosis is a diagnosis of exclusion. There is a test for it and also a vaccine that offers some promise of protection. Veterinary treatment is more rewarding for the skin masses because they can be surgically removed. However, once the infection is in the sinuses or the GI tract, the odds of survival are very poor since the removal of the affected areas is often impossible or deemed too risky.
In these times of skepticism about vaccines and of pet owner's reticence of exposing their pets to chemicals like vaccines, one must take a moment to analyze the risks we are willing to take with our pets. If a particular disease is common in your state or community, then it should be considered an essential part of your pet’s vaccine schedule. Be aware, take precautions and ask your vet about these two awful diseases!