Deadly Leptospirosis in Dogs: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Dog

What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that can affect many animals including wildlife, rodents, dogs and people. The disease is caused not just by one specific strain of Leptospira spp. but rather by any of a number of different serovars (types) within this bacterial genus. They exist everywhere in the world but are most commonly prevalent during periods of heavy rainfall1.

How does leptospirosis spread?
Your dog can contract the organism through direct contact with another infected animal, by eating infected meat or most commonly through contact with anything that has been contaminated by the urine of an infected animal. Most infections occur when dogs go swimming in and/or drink infected water, but in reality most anything (plants, dirt, objects or water) can be a potential source of infection2.

Additionally, it is important to note that once they are infected, wild animals can serve as reservoirs and may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment for months or even years, which may then live in the environment for weeks to months1.

According to the CDC, people can contract leptospirosis in the same ways your dog can, through contact with urine or other body fluids (except saliva) from an infected animal or by contact with other contaminated sources. Person to person transmission is apparently rare.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis infection in dogs?
Unfortunately, leptospirosis infections may present with any of a number of rather vague, non-specific symptoms that can vary in intensity. Some of these may include the following2:

  • No signs of illness whatsoever (asymptomatic infections)
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain, stiffness, reluctance to move
  • Weakness and depression
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or coughing
  • Jaundice
  • Organ failure (kidney or liver failure)

How is leptospirosis diagnosed in dogs?
In order to arrive at a diagnosis of leptospirosis, your veterinarian will consider your dog’s leptospirosis vaccination status, information from your dog’s history, the likelihood of exposure, clinical symptoms and physical examination findings along with some routine and other more specialized blood tests. These specialized tests may include serology tests, which detect antibodies against the organism, or real-time PCR tests, which may detect the actual organism in a blood and/or urine sample. Treatment is often started before all of the specialized test results are back due the potential severity of this disease and the increased risk of infection to people (veterinary staff and pet owners alike) exposed to the dog.

Can leptospirosis be treated?
Because the disease is caused by bacteria it can be treated with antibiotics. The earlier treatment can commence, the better the odds of survival. Hospitalization and supportive care (such as fluids to treat kidney disease or acute kidney injury) can be extremely important. In addition, your veterinarian will need to address and treat your dog’s specific clinical symptoms.

Can leptospirosis be prevented?
There are commercial vaccines available against some of the most common Leptospira serovars that infect dogs. (In fact the ‘L’ in the DHLPP vaccine your dog may have already received is one such example.) Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about which vaccine option is best suited to your pet’s specific needs and risks based on your geographic location (including places where you travel), and his lifestyle (urban, rural, hunting etc), and medical history.

Vaccines can be very effective at providing protection against this disease, but no vaccine provides 100% protection against infection. This may be the case with leptospirosis as there are multiple strains of the organism, but you can also take some basic steps to help decrease your dog’s risk of exposure to Leptospira organisms2:

  • Try to minimize your dog’s contact with stagnant water and wildlife (including rodents)
  • Carefully consider the increased risk associated with engaging in certain activities such as hunting and field trials.

If your dog shows any symptoms associated with leptospirosis, as always, consult your veterinarian. It is also important to bring current vaccination records with you if your pet needs to be seen after hours at an emergency clinic or specialty hospital as the veterinarian will consider leptospirosis vaccination history when assessing your animal.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


  1. "Leptospirosis." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 June 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
  2. "An Overview of Leptospirosis." Baker Institute | Animal Health. Cornell University, Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

Reviewed on:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dog-killing bacteria reported in central Indiana: What you need to know about Leptospirosis

A dangerous and highly contagious bacteria that can be deadly to pets and humans has been reported in central Indiana.

Animal experts are urging dog owners to keep their pets away from streams, lakes and any standing water – all places where Leptospirosis is most likely to spread.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can affect both humans and animals.

Molly Ellis with the Hendricks County Humane Society said the bacteria often comes from the urine of rodents or other animals and can be easily spread when it rains.

“I know from reading some of the CDC reports here that they have tested wildlife - which is how it normally spreads - in all Indiana counties and every single county came up positive for it,” said Ellis.

According to the CDC, the bacteria can survive in the water or soil for weeks to months after contamination.

“The dog picks up the bacteria, usually on their paws, and they ingest it when they lick their feet. Then they touch you, and then you touch your mouth, and it causes severe organ damage,” said Ellis. “It can be fatal in dogs and people.”

The bacteria can enter the body through the nose, mouth, eyes or through "a break in the skin," according to the CDC.

It can take up to 21 days for symptoms of Leptospirosis to appear.

Some of the most common symptoms of Leptospirosis in pets include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Refusal to eat
  • Severe weakness and depression
  • Stiffness
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Inability to have puppies

Some of the most common symptoms of Leptospirosis in humans include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Red eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash

The illness can last from a few days to three weeks or longer and can be deadly if it goes untreated.

Animal experts recommend getting your dog vaccinated for Leptospirosis, although it is not one of the common "core" vaccines.

The Leptospirosis vaccine does have a high reaction rate - so make sure you consult your veterinarian about the risks before you get your dog vaccinated.

Leptospirosis - What You Need to Know

    Ashley Wilbourn Pinciaro , Neighbor

Your dog received his rabies vaccine. He takes his heartworm pill every month. You even apply Frontline to his back to help prevent tick and flea infestation.

But has your pet received the leptospirosis vaccine? 'What's that?' you ask. It's a disease that could threaten not only your dog's life but also your own.

In this edition of Four Legged and Furry we'll take a look at what leptospirosis is and what you can do to protect not only man's best friend but also yourself.

Doctors Foster and Smith at report that leptospirosis can be transmitted from contact with "infected urine venereal and placental transfer bite wounds or the ingestion of infected tissue." The doctors warn that this type of contact is often found in kennels, but remember that this contact could also be found in puppy mills, dog stores or boarding houses.

Many strains of the leptospirosis virus are also carried in wildlife such as raccoons and opossum. So if you live in a wooded area, your pet would be at a higher risk of contracting the organism.

Once your pet has been infected with leptospirosis, the organism takes quick control. Within 4-12 days, dogs infected with the organism will demonstrate the following signs: fever, vomiting, pain, and rapid dehydration. In an advanced case reports that "profound depression, difficulty breathing, muscular tremors, bloody vomitus and feces are often observed."

These symptoms are observed as the leptospirosis organism multiples throughout your pet's body. Once the disease enters the blood stream, it quickly spreads to the "kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system, eyes, and genital tract," doctors Foster and Smith write. Once the disease enters organs, it can become fatal for the animal.

For animals in which the disease does not become fatal, the leptospirosis organism can be shed through an infected dogs urine and anything in which the urine comes into contact for weeks and months to come. It can, through this manner, be passed on to humans.

So how can you prevent this organism from taking hold of your pet?

A vaccine is the best answer. offers the vaccine at low cost.

Although the vaccine does not guarantee that your pet will not be infected by the organism due to the variety of strains in the disease, it does significantly lower the risk.

If you believe your pet may already be infected, it is important that you get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

Remember the veterinarians in our local area at or in case of emergency at

Leptospirosis in Pets: What It is and How to Prevent it

As winter comes to an end, we can except many sunny, warmer days ahead. That means lot of walks, hikes and plenty of time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, warmer weather also brings out new dangers and diseases that can sneak up on pet parents, like leptospirosis.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease that is seen more frequently during the summer and fall and in warmer areas with high annual rainfall. It is most common in dogs, but more specifically in dogs that roam in rural areas or have exposure to livestock, wildlife, rodents and other dogs that have these risk factors.

Leptospirosis has multiple strains and therefore can be picked up in quite a few ways. Pets can be exposed by ingesting it after drinking from lakes, streams and rivers. Most commonly, dogs can get leptospirosis if an open wound comes in contact with infected urine, contaminated bedding, soil, water or food. It can also be transferred to your dog if they are bit by another infected animal, such as a rodent.

What makes this disease so dangerous is that once the bacteria circulates into the bloodstream, it can reproduce in the liver, lungs, kidneys and central nervous system, ultimately leading to kidney or liver damage, and sometimes even death from organ damage.

How Do I Know if My Dog Has it?

Dogs with leptospirosis often show signs of fever, tenderness of the muscles (leading to reluctance to movement) and lethargy. Other signs may include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), inflammation of the eyes, bloody nose, urine or stool and changes in the amount and frequency of urination.

The disease can result in anemia, inflammation of the pancreas, respiratory disease, lung disease, acute kidney failure and/or permanent in liver damage. Treatment of the disease includes antibiotic, IV fluids and other supportive care. Early and aggressive treatment can increase the chances of recovery but may not prevent permanent kidney or liver damage. It is important to seek immediate veterinary care if you notice any of the above symptoms in your pet.

How Do I Prevent My Dog from Getting Leptospirosis?

The best course of action to prevent the disease is to vaccinate your dog. Vaccines are recommended yearly for dogs that are in areas where there is risk for the disease. In addition, decreasing exposure to the sources of the bacteria will decrease the risk of disease development. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog. Also be mindful of letting your pet drink from lakes, rivers or other natural water sources. Pack fresh water and a bowl when headed on outdoor excursions with your dog.

While there is a low risk of leptospirosis spreading from pets to people, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about precautions to protect you and your family if your dog does develop the disease. Consult your physician for advice if you have questions about the disease in people or if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system.

If you believe your pet may have or come in contact with leptospirosis, please contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 immediately.

Leptospirosis in Pets: What You Need to Know

Are you the proud owner of an outdoorsy, water-loving canine? If your dog enjoys romping in lakes, streams, rivers, woods, or even taking the occasional drink from a stagnant puddle, he or she is at risk of contracting leptospirosis.

Fortunately, avoiding this dangerous disease isn’t complicated. Your friends at The Whole Pet Vet want to help you learn about leptospirosis and what you can do to protect your pet.

The Down and Dirty

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans. It can be contracted through contact with contaminated water or soil. Leptospirosis is commonly spread via the urine of infected skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and other wildlife.

Cats are susceptible to leptospirosis, but dogs are more commonly exposed to the bacteria by breathing in or ingesting contaminated soil or water. Humans can also be infected.

Exposure Risks and Symptoms

Leptospira is a hardy bacterium. It can survive for long periods of time in swamps, streams, lakes, standing water, mud, and moist soil. The leptospirosis organisms travel through an infected animal’s bloodstream, and eventually make their home in the kidneys where they can wreak havoc.

Symptoms of leptospirosis generally develop anywhere from 2 to 12 days after infection and may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain or stiffness

If diagnosed in the early stages (through a blood test), treatment is relatively straightforward and includes antibiotics, fluid replacement, monitoring organ health, and preventing secondary infections.

If left untreated, leptospirosis can lead to dangerous bleeding in the lungs, kidney failure, or liver failure.

Preventing Leptospirosis

Having your pet vaccinated against leptospirosis is the best protection against contracting the disease. Your veterinarian will be happy to assess your pet’s risk of coming into contact with leptospirosis, and will work out a vaccination schedule tailored to your individual pet.

Other measures you can take to reduce your pet’s risk include:

  • Prevent your pet from ingesting water and soil in areas where wildlife are present (including urban areas where skunks and raccoons live).
  • Stay on maintained trails and paths while hiking or walking.
  • Keep your pet leashed at all times while out and about.
  • If your pet is suspected of having leptospirosis, keep him or her quarantined. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted to humans, so keep your pet away from family members and bring him or her to the vet as soon as possible.

For questions and concerns, or to learn more about leptospirosis and your pet’s risk, please contact the staff at The Whole Pet Vet.

Watch the video: Understanding Leptospirosis in Dogs

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