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Highlands Ranch family's dog dies of leptospirosis, veterinarian says cases becoming more common

Posted at 9:31 PM, Oct 15, 2019

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — A disease that can be fatal to your dog and spread to people is on the rise in Colorado, according to a veterinarian.

Leti Paoli's dog, Copper, battled health issues for several years. In the last year and a half, Copper was back to being the energetic dog she remembered until two weeks ago. Her husband was in the backyard playing with Copper when he noticed Copper was walking with a stiff gait. He thought Copper had re-injured his back.

After taking him to the veterinarian, they found out Copper was suffering from one of the early signs of leptospirosis.

"One of the first symptoms of leptospirosis is that they're drinking a ton of water, and then they go out and urinate, and sometimes they have urinary accidents because they're drinking so much water," said Dr. Laura Russell, chief emergency doctor at Colorado Veterinary Specialist & Animal ER in Littleton.

Dr. Russell helped care for Copper. She says her office usually sees one to two cases of leptospirosis per year. This year, they've seen six.

She says jaundice means the disease has progressed.

"The whites of the eyes will turn a yellowish tint," she said.

Leptospirosis can be passed from animal to person or, like in Copper's case, to another animal. Within days of his diagnosis, the Paolis were forced to make the difficult decision to put Copper down.

"Copper was such a sweet boy, and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Paoli.

The CDC says leptospirosis is spread through the urine of infected animals. It typically gets into water or soil where other animals can come into contact, becoming infected.

The Paolis never got the vaccine for their dog. Dr. Russell said the Highlands Ranch couple isn't alone — most elect to skip the shots. She said the cost scares some off, and she says she's seen some cases of the dogs becoming ill because of the vaccine.

"I think it does cause more dogs to get a little bit sicker than other vaccinations," Dr. Russell said. "I've seen some pretty terrifying leptospirosis cases this year. I'm vaccinating my dogs this year for it."

The signs of leptospirosis for people are similar to the flu or a stomach bug. Antibiotics can clear it up for humans. The same goes for dogs if caught in time. Cats are not at risk.

The number of leptospirosis cases in Colorado is unknown because the state does not report it.