Dog vaccine: Leptospirosis cases on the rise according to pet insurance data

Dog owners are being warned about leptospirosis, with warnings that growing case numbers of the potentially deadly disease could worsen as wet weather continues.

The number of claims for leptospirosis treatment has exploded, with a 250 per cent rise from February to September, as rain conditions worsened across eastern Australia, according to insurance company PetSure.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects both humans and animals like dogs, it‘s spread through the urine of infected animals, with rats being the most likely culprit for infection in Australia.

With the disease spreading through contaminated water, there are warnings that those in flood-affected areas are at a heightened risk and that continuing wet weather could expose more dogs and people, according to University of Queensland Associate Professor Rowland Cobbold.

“The more water you have around, the more wet the environment, the more likely the disease is to survive and the higher likelihood of leptospirosis exposure,” Professor Cobbold said.

Many dogs who contract the disease only have mild symptoms, however, they can go on to develop kidney failure and jaundice, with many passing away after becoming infected, according to PetSure vet adviser Dr Betty Chan.

“The signs of leptospirosis in dogs vary but generally they may include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, depression, weakness or a reluctance to move,” she said.

Not only is the disease debilitating for pets and stressful for owners, but it can also be costly.

The average cost of treatment sits at $4330 but can run as high as $18,482 in some cases according to PetSure.

There has been an explosion of cases across NSW in recent years, according to University of Sydney senior lecturer in ventinary science, Dr Christine Griebsch.

“It started in the City of Sydney, there was then more of a spread to other areas of Sydney and outside, this year has seen a surge of cases on the south coast and also in Newcastle,” Dr Griebsch said.

“There were no recorded cases in dogs since 1976, then one case in 2017, two in 2018, and now there‘s been 60 cases in the past two years.”

The south coast is of particular concern with over half of the cases of dogs being reported in that area.

Dr Griebsch agreed that La Nina is likely to be contributing to the rise in case numbers.

“The highest risk is when it’s really, really wet, as it survives in environments that are moist like soil and water puddles,” she said.

According to PetSure, the highest number of claims was in August, which coincided with rainfall that was 34 per cent above average.

Pet owners who live in high-risk areas like the south coast and Newcastle are urged to get their dogs vaccinated, Dr Chan says.

However, vaccination might not be enough according to Professor Cobbold.

“The main problem with the vaccine is it‘s not 100 per cent effective, there are about 200 strains of leptospirosis and the vaccine only covers two, most of the time dogs don’t get those two strains,” he said.

“Vaccines will help protect dogs but unfortunately they aren‘t completely effective.”

Dr Griebsch recommends dog owners stay vigilant with their pets to avoid them getting sick.

“Most important risk mitigation strategy is to avoid contact with stagnant water like ponds and water puddles,” she said.

“If there‘s an area where there have been cases I would also maybe avoid doggie daycare.

“I also get a little bit twitchy when I see these doggie water bowls outside of cafes and such, I wonder whether they‘ve been left out overnight and whether rats have had access to them, I would be very careful to let my dog drink out of these communal water bowls.”

Originally published as Dog owners urgently warned about deadly disease leptospirosis cases rising

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