Oregon officials are warning coast visitors to keep their dogs away from dead or stranded sea lions, which have been washing up in increasing numbers due to a leptospirosis outbreak.
“Over the past few months, we have been getting calls for multiple sick or dead sea lions daily, which is higher than normal,” said Jim Rice, a researcher at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute.
At least eight cases of leptospirosis have been confirmed through OSU’s Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory since the outbreak began in late September, mostly on beaches in Lincoln, Tillamook and Clatsop counties.
The disease also has struck sea lions in California.
Leptospirosis occurs worldwide, but outbreaks occur only sporadically in marine mammals. The last Oregon outbreak was in 2010.
The disease can spread through contact with urine or other bodily fluids of an infected animal.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, there are vaccines for the disease. Once infected, dogs can be treated with antibiotics.
There is a small risk of transmission to people, but dogs are most at risk of coming into contact with body fluid from sick or dead sea lions. The bacteria can also sicken livestock and other wildlife.
Leptospirosis can cause severe disease in dogs, State Veterinarian Emilio DeBess said. Symptoms include kidney failure, fever, weakness and muscle pain.
“If your dog becomes ill after being exposed to sick or dead sea lions, contact your veterinarian immediately,” DeBess said. A vaccine for dogs also is available.
Officials are asking people who observe sick sea lions or other marine mammals on the beach should to at least 50 feet away and report them to the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888.
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