Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can lead to kidney failure and even death, is not new, nor is its effect on animals.
But a Los Angeles veterinarian said he’s seen maybe a dozen cases in 40 years of work. However, in the past three weeks, the same vet has tripled the number of cases.
Allison Mellon, a Brentwood resident, is just one person whose dog is affected.
“He was so sick it was terrifying,” Mellon said of her dog, Thor. “He was just lying lethargic and didn’t want to move.”
Lenny, West LA’s Daniel Mastracco dog, also fell ill.
“He didn’t want to eat or drink,” said Mastracco. “I was really worried about that.”
The veterinarian Dr. Alan Schulman says, based on the other vets he’s spoken to on the Westside for the past few weeks, 50 to 100 cases is a conservative estimate of how big the dog leptospirosis epidemic has got.
“It really is an epidemic,” said Schulman.
LA County’s public health service confirmed a sharp surge in cases in July, mostly from the west side of LA County or the San Fernando Valley.
“People [are] said ‘My dog is just not right,’ “said Schulman.” ‘He’s sluggish, his eyes are red, he just doesn’t want to eat,’ “all typical symptoms of a bacterial infection.
Early detection of the disease is key to identifying and treating the cases. And they can be treated with antibiotics or prevented with leptospirosis vaccines – although there are many different strains.
But how do dogs get infected anyway?
According to Schulman, leptospirosis can result from contaminated water or urine.
“It’s the rats,” said Schulman. “They urinate in places, they defecate in places, dogs get it from them. The other way it is transmitted is directly through human urine.”
Dogs can also pass it on to each other. One outbreak came from a boarding school in Santa Monica, according to LA County.
An increase in homeless camps could be a possible reason the disease is on the rise in West LA, he added.
“In these camps we are seeing phenomenal growth in the rodent population,” said Schulman – rodents that are the source of the disease.
“This is not a bacterial epidemic that came from elsewhere. It comes from here and dogs are at such high risk.”
While people can also develop leptospirosis, the LA County Public Health has no reports of the disease.
To date, Schulman has not heard any reports of dogs dying, but warns that people who use dog daycare or go to dog parks should get their dogs vaccinated against leptospirosis as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about leptospirosis or want to report a case, call 213-288-7060 or email [email protected].