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Matthew Sisk: Rare subtype of bacteria causes infection in dog
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Lemmy has been hospitalized for two days when I learn the reason for his illness. I had suspected, but with confirmatory blood work, I now know.

Lemmy is suffering from a bacterial infection known as Leptospirosis. The bacteria is typically spread through urine, and animals who share environments frequented by deer, mice, or other wildlife can be at risk. Several different subtypes of the bacteria are known, and the varying types affect different portions of the body. Most infections cause damage to the liver, kidneys or both.

Lemmy is infected by a Leptospira subtype that damages the kidneys. It usually can be treated effectively with antibiotics if caught early. However, it’s hard to known when Lemmy’s infection began. Add in his age, and the risk to him is higher than a young dog exposed to the same pathogen.

But what’s most frustrating is Lemmy is vaccinated against this disease. At least, he’s vaccinated against the types of the bacteria that are included in the vaccine. The subtype causing his infection is a newly arising bacterial population, not included in the vaccine.

Sometimes, luck is against you. You do what you can, but some inane rarity trips you up. I blame myself, even though I couldn’t have protected him more than I already had. Such is the life of a veterinarian.

Luckily for my professional ego, he’s feeling better. Two days of continuous fluid therapy and intravenous antibiotics appears to have begun to turn the tables on the infection. The antibiotics kill the bacteria, and the fluids help flush away the toxins that built up as Lemmy’s kidneys malfunctioned. The fluids also corrected his dehydration, which plays a huge role in illness.

Kidney values on a recheck of blood work are significantly lower, although still slightly elevated from the normal range. This may take some time to return to normal levels, or some dysfunction may remain long term.

After four days of treatment, Lemmy is discharged home with continuing antibiotic therapy by mouth. His family is warned Leptospirosis can affect humans, too.

In two weeks, I’ll recheck him.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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