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A recent increase nationwide in cases of a serious bacterial disease has caused concern among U.S. dog owners, but thankfully a new test is available that may speed diagnosis and allow quicker treatment. This week the veterinary diagnostics company IDEXX Laboratories announced the release of the SNAP® Lepto Test that detects antibodies for leptospirosis, a sometimes life-threatening bacterial disease affecting humans, dogs, and many other animals. 

Dogs can develop leptospirosis through contact with water, food, or soil contaminated by urine from infected animals. Many wild animals can carry the bacteria, such as raccoons, skunks, rodents, deer, and opossums, as well as pets and livestock. Areas that can be of particular risk of harboring the bacteria include stagnant water or muddy ground. Symptoms of the disease can be mild, but acute infections can have deadly consequences such as liver and kidney failure.

Although there is a vaccine to protect dogs from leptospirosis, unfortunately the vaccine does not provide 100-percent protection, because the disease can be caused by several different strains of the bacteria, and the vaccine does not provide immunity for all of them. In the past vets have reported a somewhat higher percentage of rare but sometimes serious adverse reactions in dogs with the leptospirosis vaccine as compared to other inoculations. However, newer versions of the vaccine are said to be less likely to cause negative effects. Owners should discuss with their vet the pros and cons of vaccinating their dog for leptospirosis.

Leptospira sp. bacteria photographed in a scanning electron microscope. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The SNAP Lepto Test, which detects the presence of antibodies to leptospirosis within 10 minutes, can be performed in local veterinary clinics on dogs suspected of having the disease. This can help ensure that the dog gets the appropriate treatment right away, with the potential to reduce the severity of symptoms in some cases.
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