Vets Warn of Sudden Rise of Pet Illness Spreading in San Diego

In rare cases, the illness has spread to humans

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Veterinarians in San Diego are seeing more and more cases of a bacterial illness in dogs called leptospirosis.

The rise doesn't qualify as an outbreak just yet, but the illness is spreading quickly at local dog parks and boarding facilities.

In San Diego, our pets can have it pretty good at parks, beaches and open space for walks and play. But veterinarians warn it's also those places that may be facilitating the spread of leptospirosis.

Dr. Jenna Olsen at B Street Veterinary Hospital said there are many different strains. The bacteria is more common in wet climates like Northern California and can infect rats, cows and even sea lions. And in rare cases, it has been passed on to humans.

“We’ve had quite a few dogs in the last month alone hospitalized,” said Dr. Olsen. “Because a lot of dogs really haven’t had the exposure risk down here, it’s not something that we commonly vaccinate for."

It was news to people at Nate’s Point Dog Park in Balboa Park.

“We haven’t worried too much about it because we know she’s up to date on her vaccines and her flea meds. But knowing that, there’s always a risk," said Matt Halpin, a dog owner.

Dr. Olsen said at B Street Vet Hospital alone, they have had more than a dozen cases in the last couple months. That's unusually high for Dr. Olsen who said she'd only seen about three cases in the last 10 years.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include lethargy, decreased appetite, increased urination and vomiting. Severe cases can include muscle stiffness, can affect their kidneys and put them in the hospital. Dr. Olsen said after that, the survival rate is between 70% and 80%.

“This poor guy whose been hospitalized for 10-plus days, we had a dog pass away or need to be humanely euthanized last week, which was really really sad because it is technically a preventable disease. But it’s really not been on our radar,” said Dr. Olsen.

Dogs can also be asymptomatic and pass the disease to humans.

Dr. Olsen said the most common way the bacteria spreads is through contact with urine, which can get into water or soil and survive there for weeks to months.

"So if their dog is having accidents in their house or in some cases having accidents in their bed, that’s how people can be exposed to it,” said Olsen.

Symptoms in people include headache, high fever, muscle aches and chills.

“It’s things that would raise red flags for us right now anyways, given the current state of COVID,” said Dr. Olsen.

The best plan of action is to notify your doctor if you've been exposed and take your dog to the vet.

For more information, visit the CDC’s website.

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