Chicago-Area Veterinarian, Pet Owners Warn of Increase in Leptospirosis Cases

The bacterial disease is spread through urine and can be deadly if left untreated.

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Pet owners are sharing their tragic stories of loss as a warning about a surge in cases of a bacterial infection called Leptospirosis.

Spay Illinois, a low cost clinic in Lisle first posted about the uptick, writing on Facebook, "There is a Leptospirosis outbreak in Kane County, Cook County, Will County and surrounding areas."

Stephanie Paluch shared the post after one of the puppies her group rescued died from the disease, also known as Lepto.

"This was only the second case I’ve ever seen," said Paluch, the founder of Players for Pits Rescue in Elmhurst.

A puppy named Ranger, estimated to be about four months old, came into the shelter with what was originally though to be Parvo. However, a South Loop vet quickly diagnosed him with Lepto.

The puppy had jaundice and was likely unvaccinated.

"To have them come in contact with a deadly disease that pretty much gives them no chance, it’s awful to see," Paluch said.

Paluch quickly wrote about Ranger's story on social media, and to her surprise, hundreds of people shared the post as well as detailed stories of their own experiences with the disease.

Manny Salazar was one of them.

His 9-year-old Shiba Inu, Loki, died from the disease earlier this month.

"He came in contact with a possum," said Salazar. "The only thing we can do is spread the word so no one has to go through what we went through."

Lepto is a bacterial disease that spreads through the urine of infected animals like rats, raccoons and possums. Young puppies and unvaccinated dogs are the most susceptible, according to PAWS Chicago.

PAWS is not seeing an uptick in Lepto, but is encouraging all pet parents to make sure dogs are up to date on vaccinations.

"Worst case scenario is it can cause liver and kidney failure. It is treatable. It’s a bacteria so the treatment is antibiotics," said Emily Yacker, the medical director at PAWS Chicago.

Lepto is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred to humans.

"They need to ingest it. It needs to be through mucus membranes of some form so licking through the mouth," said Dr. Yacker. "It has to be ingested, it’s not through the air."

PAWS offers low cost vaccinations every week day from 12 to 3 p.m. at its Little Village Medical Center.

"Be as cautious as you can be. Be thoughtful about where you are bringing your vulnerable puppy," said Susanna Wickham, the CEO at PAWS Chicago.

Signs of Lepto include vomiting, increased thirst and urination, and loss of appetite.

Wickham says the Lepto vaccine is often included in a series of vaccines dogs get as puppies but encourages pet owners to confirm with their vet.

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