Animal Care & Welfare: leptospirosis
Many of us love to take our dogs to the beach. Rex is happiest swimming after his ball in the water or running after his ball on the sand. Should I be worried that there are always seals and sea lions close by?
Last year, the northern California coast saw another surge of leptospirosis in seals and sea lions. This outbreak is the second largest since starting to track this disease almost fifty years ago.
So what is leptospirosis? Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. This bacteria, Leptospira, can not only be passed from animal to animal, it is zoonotic- which means (my regular readers should know this…) that it can be passed from animals to humans.
How is lepto transmitted? The bacteria is spread by the urine of infected animals, and can live in water or soil for weeks, even months. Through the skin (especially an open wound), the mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth) or by ingestion (drinking contaminated water), this bacteria gets into the body and can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches and abdominal pain, but it’s also possible that an animal can be infected, and also be asymptomatic.
One local with firsthand knowledge and experience in this subject is Jennie Henderson. Jennie, and her husband Mike, used to manage Anchor Bay campground. They were regularly coming across “young and emaciated” stranded seals and sea lions, and then contacting the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito to drive up here, assess the animal and transport it back to the center for testing. This testing usually resulted in a leptospirosis diagnosis. After over a decade of this routine, Jennie and Mike made a proposal to the MMC that resulted in a team of volunteers being provided the tools and training to, first, assess a stranded animal- is this a healthy pup whose mother is simply off hunting for food, or is this an animal showing the signs of sickness? The team was also trained to treat an animal with fluids (or stabilize them), and then transport them down to the Marine Mammal Center for testing and rehabilitation. Jennie says “Lepto is very prevalent in the environment in this area. An infected seal could shed the bacteria by urinating on the beach or in the water, and unprotected dogs are susceptible.”
If your dog is a regular at the beach, the yearly vaccine could be a good preventive measure.
If you come across a seal or sea lion stranded on the beach, do not let your dog near it. Call the 24 hour hotline at the Marine Mammal Center: 415-289-SEAL (7325).