by ANDREW M. STREIBER, DVM
Q: The “El Niño” weather forecasts in California this year predict a wetter winter and spring. What are the potential risks to cats and dogs that result from an increase in rain and the standing pools of water that follow?
A: The various canine and feline risks associated with “El Niño” and the greater than average rainfall it typically brings to otherwise drier climes are either preventable or treatable with generally positive prognoses and outcomes. Here is a brief list of microorganisms that become more prominent with wet weather.
“Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. Giardia (also known as Giardia intestinalis, Giardia lamblia, or Giardia duodenalis) is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals.
Giardia is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it tolerant to chlorine disinfection. While the parasite can be spread in different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common mode of transmission.” (CDC)
“Heartworm infection in dogs has been diagnosed around the globe, including all 50 of the United States, and is considered at least regionally endemic in each of the contiguous 48 states and Hawaii. The relocation of micro laremic dogs and expansion of the territories of micro laremic wild canids in other areas of the US continue to be important factors contributing to further dissemination of the parasite. Environmental changes created by humans, such the formation of “heat islands” in the northern
US due to urban sprawl, and changes in natural climatic conditions also have increased heartworm infection potential by creating microenvironments that support development of heartworm larvae in mosquito vectors during colder months, thus lengthening the transmission season and virtually ensuring that the risk never reaches zero.” (American Heartworm Society)
“Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons, however, may have no symptoms at all. Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death.
The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary and are nonspecific. Sometimes pets do not have any symptoms. Common clinical signs have been reported in dogs. These include: fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and depression, stiffness, severe muscle pain, and inability to have puppies.
Generally younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals. If you think your pet may have Leptospirosis, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can perform tests to determine whether or not your pet has the disease.
To help prevent Leptospirosis infection, keep rodent problems (rats, mice, or other animal pests) under control. Rodents can carry and spread the bacteria that causes this disease. For more information about rodent control, see: Prevent rodent infestations.
Get your pet vaccinated against leptospirosis. The vaccine does not provide 100% protection. This is because there are many strains (types) of leptospires (the bacteria that causes Leptospirosis), and the vaccine does not provide immunity against all strains. It is important to get your pet vaccinated again even if it gets leptospirosis because it can still get infected with a different strain of leptospires.
Pet owners should also take steps to prevent themselves and others from becoming infected with the disease due to an infected pet. The primary mode of transmission of leptospirosis from pets to humans is through direct or indirect contact with contaminated animal tissues, organs, or urine.
In some instances, shedding of leptospires in the urine may persist for as long as 3 months after infection as a result of inadequate or lack of treatment. Always contact your veterinarian and your physician if you have concerns about a possible exposure to an infected animal.” (CDC)
While this list is by no means comprehensive, my hope is that it serves to raise awareness about the potential dangers standing pools of water can be to both our pets and ourselves.