Increased Numbers of Animals with Leptospirosis in Arizona

Yesterday, I received a Veterinary Alert from the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association regarding an outbreak of Leptospirosis in dogs  in Maricopa County, Arizona.  In addition to the outbreak that occurred last February, there has been a second one associated with a boarding facility. The infected dogs showed a diverse array of clinical sings from conjunctivitis to kidney failure. Some dogs showed no signs at all which is especially troubling.

Leptospirosis is a serious disease that affects dogs, cats, horses, swine, sheep, goats, deer, marine mammals and humans. Signs of leptospirosis vary greatly from mild malaise to death. The incubation period is usually 7 days. The most common signs in dogs in the early phase are fever, shivering, lethargy, decreased appetite and muscle tenderness. As the disease progresses, increased thirst and urination, abdominal pain, vomiting, eye disease, diarrhea, joint stiffness, bruising of the skin, coughing and a runny nose are just a few of the symptoms that can occur.  The exact symptoms depend upon which organ is affected. Animals with liver involvement become jaundiced (yellow color of the skin). If the nervous system is involved, animals may seizure, have problems walking or suffer neurologic deficits.

Diagnosis of leptospirosis requires special testing to identify the organism. Routine blood work, urinalysis and clotting tests will make it a rule-out but not make the diagnosis. 87-100% of dogs present with elevated creatinine and BUN.

Leptospira bacteria like to live in warm moist environments with alkaline soil. Under these conditions, the bacteria can survive for months. Infections occur through direct exposure to the urine, saliva (bite wounds) or tissues of animals infected with the disease.  It can also be contracted indirectly by contact with water, soil, food or bedding that is contaminated with the organism. The leptospires can penetrate mucous membranes and damaged skin.  In the February 2016, nine dogs tested positive for this disease in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is thought that heavy storms left standing water that was contaminated by pack rats. Unfortunately, one dog did not respond to treatment and died.

Prevention is the key to dealing with leptospirosis. Thankfully, there are two vaccines available for dogs in the United Sates. One is a bivalent which means it only contains two serovars, icterohaemorrhagiae and canicola. I recommend the other vaccine which contains 4 serovars – canicola, icterohaemorrhagiae, grippotyphosa and pomona. This vaccine is licensed for pups 6 weeks and older. The manufacturer recommends 2 doses of the vaccine given 2-3 weeks apart and then boosted annually.

More information is available at 


-Adams, Laura. Canine Leptospirosis in Arizona, Arizona Veterinary News, Arizona Veterinary Medical Association, March 2016.

-Arizona Veterinary Medical Association, Veterinary Alert: Leptospirosis Outbreak in Dogs in Maricopa County. November 10, 2016.

-Morgan, Rhea. Leptospirosis (Zoonotic), Associate Database, Veterinary Information Network, 1/29/2014, Last updated by Kari Rothrock 1/20/2012.



Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sangineus)

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangineus) came to the United States from Europe. Both the nymphs and adults are brown in color with 8 legs. They prefer to feed on dogs but will use other animals or people when dogs aren’t available. The larvae only have 6 legs but their small size makes it hard to count. They look like seeds or speaks of dirt lodged on the skin which is how they got their nick name ‘seed tick’. These little vampires attach to the skin of their host, bite and then feed on the blood from their victim. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant to keep the blood from clotting. Unfortunately, the saliva may also contain infectious diseases including Ehrlichiosis (Tick Fever) and Babesiosis,


The life cycle of the brown dog tick starts with a female laying eggs in a protected crevice. The eggs hatch two weeks later producing the 6 legged nymph stage. Brown dog ticks are ‘negative geotrophic’ which means they crawl to the highest point they can find. When they are ready to feed, they crawl down and wait for a dog or other host. After feeding on a host, they drop off, climb to a high point and molt into the next stage called a nymph. The nymph finds a host for a meal and repeats the process emerging as an adult. The adult females need another blood meal in order to lay eggs. Brown dog ticks are the only tick that can complete their entire life cycle indoors. In fact, they may feed off the same animal for every stage of development. They entire life cycle can be completed in just over two months.


Once the ticks are established in a home, kennel or shelter, they can be difficult to eradicate because the females produce large numbers of eggs, up to 5,000 eggs per well-fed female. The tick can also survive for three to five months between feedings. The best success is achieved when the animals and the environment are treated simultaneously. Since the life cycle is long, it will take several months of consistent treatment to eradicate the tick infestation.

For the dog, there are many options to choose from. Here is a list of the different chemicals.

  1. Fipronil (sprays and spot ons)
  2. Amitraz (collars)
  3. permethrin (sprays and shampoos)
  4. deltamethrin (shampoo)
  5. fluralaner (oral tablet)

Please consult with a veterinarian who is familiar with your pet’s medical history to determine the best method of treatment for your specific animal. Many of the medications take anywhere from 2-6 hours to kill the tick after it has ingested a blood meal, I recommend twice a day tick checks at the very minimum. Ticks can lodge anywhere in the body, but I find them most between the toes, on the insides of the ears, under the collar and in the underarms. When a tick is found, grasp it with a tweezers and then apply slow steady pressure until the tick is removed. Ticks do not leave their heads buried in the skin unless they are cut off from their body. This urban myth came from the fact that the saliva from the tick creates a red mark from inflammation, not from the tick leaving its head in the skin. Be sure to kill the tick after removal to keep it from infecting another animal.

For the environment, I recommend hiring a professional exterminator who is familiar with this pest. Treat the indoors as well as the outdoors. Since this tick likes to climb, the walls and ceilings must be addressed in addition to the floors. Don’t forget to check the areas under all furniture as well as between cushions. A strong vacuum is a great way to get them off the ceiling and walls. After vacuuming, remove the bag and secure it in a plastic bag to keep the ticks from escaping. In addition to treating the backyard with insecticide, it is important to keep wildlife out to prevent re-infestation. Although chain-link fence may keep bigger animals out, it does not prevent mice, rats, and other rodents from entering. At my home in Arizona, I added a 1/4 inch screen to the bottom half of my yard fence. It has done a good job of keeping rabbits, snakes and toads out of my backyard.

More detailed information on the biology of the brown dog tick is available at the University of Florida Entomology Department.


University of Florida, Entomology Department



Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Great job Barb! I would wait until you can handle the kittens before introducing them to the others. I understand your dilemma about the Revolution but I think you did the right thing by treating them. To help them trust you again, I would try bits of cooked chicken for a special treat.  Play with them using feathers on a string to draw them out and then reward them with the treat.  Good luck and congrats again on getting the colony registered.

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Three months have gone by.The kittens are about 6 months old.The first three caught are now playing with me with toys. They are not allowing contact.I am taking your advice and not forcing it. The male leader will play and run up to my feet and then smell them and run away.I am spending about an hour every morning with them. I feed them while I am in the room all of them come out to eat. The male now waits for me in front of the door waiting for breakfast.I had a tough choice to make last week..I needed to put their revolution on them. The only way was to chase them into their original cage. I managed to get it on them The smallest runt Echo hissed and hissed then stared crying, it broke my heart.I am not sure weather it was the right decision, they were distant about a week and the last one caught is not coming back out yet.I thought it was better they are healthy and pest free for now.Otherwise all the money spent at the vet for worming and flee medication I feel would be wasted.My other cats will come to the door when the kittens are playing. One comes in walks up to the kittens and hisses in a non threatening way then turns and walks out.I wondering if I should wait until I can handle the kittens before I let them into the rest of the house. I don’t want to have to chase them again it seems to undo my progress.And just another update the mom and brother from another litter as well as the other feral cats stopping by to eat are now a registered colony and my city is paying for every cat I catch and release to be spayed/neutered.

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Congratulations Barb!  You have made great progress with the kittens.  I also want to thank you for your diligence in catching the last kitten.  This kitten will watch the others for clues about the new environment so it is extremely important to proceed slowly.  Let the other kittens continue to smell her cage and remember their sister.  In my opinion, cats do remember each other even after months of separation. When they are lying next to each other or purring when they meet, it is time to let her out.  Lock the other kittens in their cage while she is exploring the new room.  Once she is comfortable, let one out at a time if possible to make sure she isn’t overwhelmed.  As for your last question, she will learn from the other kittens about humans so her adjustment phase is should be shorter. Again, I want to thank you for dedicating so much time and effort to these kittens.   

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Update on feral kittens.Now they are out of the cage, in their own room.One comes to eat when I am in the room the others watch me. None are approaching me.But they don’t run and hide now.When I move around too much they run back to the cage. While there they will let me pick them up and pet them.I trapped the last kitten of the litter.I had her spayed yesterday.I left her in a room to herself over night. Today i put her in the room with her litter mates, I thought it would help her be less afraid.The male thats comes out to eat and seems to be the most inquisitive, kept going over to the cage and smelling it. Do you think they recognize each other after being separated about 5 weeks? How long do you think I should wait before letting her out with the rest?
I am hoping she’ll catch up with the rest of them.They are about four to four and a half months old now.Thanks Barb

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Thank you for adopting these feral kittens.  Your adults will help the kittens learn about humans.  I would caution you about trying to pick up the kittens and force socialization before they are ready.  Picking them up causes severe fear in feral kittens.  I would recommend sitting on the ground and letting them jump on your lap.  Once they are comfortable, lift their front legs off the ground an inch and slowly progress from there until you can pick them up.  Never force them into a situation where they feel the need to bite in order to escape.  As for food, I would recommend leaving dry food available at all times and then giving them some canned food while you are home.  I leave a small amount of canned food out for mine before I go to work.  My cats will eat all of it within the next hour then have the dry for later.  Again, thanks for taking in these kittens and your other cats.  Good luck!

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Trapped 3 feral kittens 11 weeks old.Kept them in cage 1 week before shots/spayed.1 week after all kittens will eat in front of me (in the cage).and allow me to pick them up and pet them.The male is the biggest already tame, he growls at the others when they are eating. One girl hisses when i go to pick her up.The other girl hisses every time I come near the cage and doesn’t tolerate being held long.She bit me once and I seperated her from the others one night. The boy has been sticking is head out when the door is open.I have two other cats who come in the ferals room and they don’t seem to mind them. Last night I left the cage doors open but the door shut. I feel like they are not getting enough exersize in the cage.I plan to let them loose in the room for about a week before letting my other two have contact with them. I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them three days a week. I was wondering if I should still not leave wet food in room when I leave. And will my other two help with the taming. Thease are my first ferals.

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Wow, you have made great progress with all of the cats.  I am sorry to hear about Tuki but happy to hear about Klein.  In my experience, feral cats have a tough time being picked up.  To condition Klein for this, start by lifting one leg off the ground for a few seconds while rubbing his chin.  When he is comfortable with that, pick up the front half of his body but leave his back feet on the ground.  Eventually, you will be able to pick him up entirely.  If the goal is to bring him inside, I would not introduce him to the larger enclosure until after he is comfortable in the house.  To keep Zambezi and Calypso safe, I would introduce them to the large enclosure.  I would not trust them outside on there own.  

Overall, you have done a remarkable job with these cats.  Thanks for the update and please keep up the good work.   

Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Just thought I’d give you an update plus any advice would be great! Tuki disappeared which is a shame so I really don’t know what happened to her – she would turn up every night to be fed but one day never showed up and hasnt been seen since. Unfortunately the local councils animal control came in and destroyed the stray cats that where hanging around the local shops – so unfortunately I never had the chance to do anything more about them. The one cat I did trap from there I’ve had for nearly a year now. He is now called Klein and I had to take him out of the room I originally had him in because he was just going crazy in there and has been living an outside enclosure ever since (basically a small garden shed with a walk-in avairy flight attached and safety door). For the first couple of months he would hide in the shed during the day and only come outside at night when he thought nobody was around. Its taken me about 8 months just to be able to touch him but he is now coming up to me happily to be petted and stroked but picking him up is still out of the question. I want to move him into a larger enclosure though – I have a large planted 8x6meter avairy available. Would it be better to put him in there or leave him in the smaller one he is in and is comfortable with? My aim is to eventually take him inside and get him tame enough to be a pet but I already have the two other ferals Zambezi and Calypso Im still working with inside that I want to get 100% tame first and my Burmilla Cindy is already not impressed about those two – she hasnt got in any fights but certainly hisses and gives the others the odd swat if they get to close to her. She already hisses at Klein though the wire of his outside enclosure too. Is there anything I can do to help Cindy be happier about the other cats? Also when do you think I can let Calypso and Zambezi outside – I’m scared they will run away and never come back! They are now over a year old and are really friendly with me, follow me around and happily explore the whole house (except the kitchen) but they still run and hide with loud noises and guests. They will come to my partner too but Zambezi is still cautious around him and Calypso has developed the tendancy to smooch around his legs and then suddenly bite him! Zambezi still hides away during the day unless I call him out but his is fine at night. They will not go in the kitchen at all but I think thats because of all the noisy appliences and the fact that my 3 noisy dogs are always outside the kitchen window when they want inside. Ive had Calypso and Zambezi for over a year now though – do I risk letting them outside yet?