For the love of you pet: Leptospirosis in dogs

By Shana Bohac
July 31, 2014 at 2:31 a.m.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects the kidneys, predominantly in dogs. An important aspect of this disease is the fact that it can be transmitted to humans. The bacteria is maintained in the host's kidneys and passed in urine. The bacteria can contaminate groundwater and then allow infection of other animals, including our pets.

Disease in cats has been noted, but clinical signs are rarely seen. All ages and breeds of dogs are susceptible to leptospirosis; however, smaller breed dogs are more commonly found to have the disease. Leptospirosis has been found in all 50 states, but it is more commonly found in the Northeast, Midwest and along the West Coast.

There are vaccines available that are highly effective and generally recommended by your veterinarian. Typically, leptospirosis is included in your annual parvovirus and distemper virus vaccination. Some dogs are allergic to the leptospirosis component of the vaccine, so your veterinarian will typically ask if you would like the vaccination with our without leptospirosis.

Unvaccinated dogs are at risk of infection if they come into contact with contaminated water sources. Infected water can be found in rural or suburban areas, particularly those with a lot mammalian wildlife.

Infections are more frequently seen during the fall months because of the increase in wildlife movement and during periods of heavy rainfall. Increased areas of standing water can lead to greater exposure risks to our pets.

Signs of leptospirosis infection can range from no clinical signs at all in mild cases to very severe disease. In mild infections, some dogs will have a fever, appear lethargic and have a loss in appetite. Symptoms typically appear anywhere from four to 12 days after exposure to the bacteria.

In severe cases, acute kidney disease is the most common concern. This will manifest as vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, increased urination and an increase in drinking. In some cases, the liver can be affected, so yellowing of the gums, eyes, and ears will be seen.

Most animals that are suspected of having leptospirosis will need to be hospitalized. Blood tests can be performed to confirm an infection with the Leptospira bacteria. The mainstay of treatment includes administering intravenous fluids, controlling vomiting and diarrhea and antibiotic therapy. It is important to remember that leptospirosis can be fatal even with appropriate treatment. The mortality rate of dogs showing moderate to severe signs is between 10 and 30 percent.

Patients pose a risk for zoonotic transmission (passing the disease to humans). Urine is considered infectious up to 72 hours after the start of antibiotics. Other dogs in the household may also be treated for the disease since they could have possibly been exposed.

This disease can be prevented or symptoms reduced by giving annual vaccinations. This is just another great reason why vaccinating your pet is so important.

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to



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