Canine Leptospirosis: Your Dog and Leptospirosis Infection

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. The Leptospira bacteria that is present worldwide.

It can infect many types of animals, both wild and domestic, including:

  • dogs
  • rats, and other rodents
  • raccoons
  • skunks
  • deer,
  • and many others

Because leptospirosis can also infect people, it makes the disease even more troublesome. On the other hand, infection in cats is rare.

Canine Leptospirosis: Your Dog and Leptospirosis Infection

What causes leptospirosis?

The bacteria responsible for leptospirosis is Leptospirosis is a spirochaete or a leptospire. It gets its name because of its distinctive spiral shape. The infection typically spreads through water, soil, and other objects contaminated by urine or other body fluids from infected animals.

Scanning electron micrograph showing the spiral-shaped bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Image: Janice Carr/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Image Number: 138)

The ways in which dogs can acquire the infection include:

  • drinking, walking through or swimming in contaminated water
  • contact of damaged or abraded skin with contaminated soil, water, or other objects
  • contact with reproductive secretions
  • ingestion of infected tissue
  • bite wounds

Leptospirosis may affect the kidneys and/or the liver of the infected dog. As a result, the effects can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe, life-threatening disease

Symptoms seen with leptospirosis include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • decreased appetite
  • joint and muscle pain
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • excessive water consumption
  • excessive urination
  • jaundice or icterus (yellow coloration of the skin and mucous membranes usually resulting from liver failure)
  • low platelet counts leading to abnormal bleeding

Treatment and complications

Leptospirosis in dogs is treatable with antibiotics.

However, early diagnosis and treatment are essential. Catching the infection early can minimize the amount of damage to the kidneys and/or liver. Further, it will also reduce the length of the recovery period.

However, more advanced cases require aggressive treatment and may include:

  • fluid therapy to combat dehydration
  • dialysis to remove toxins from the bloodstream while the dog recovers

Leptospirosis can be fatal in some cases.

Zoonotic in nature

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease. That means it can infect people as well as dogs and other animals.

The risk of exposure to you is minimal with normal day-to-day contact. However, if you handle urine, blood or other tissues from an infected dog, you may expose yourself to leptospirosis. Take proper precautions including wearing gloves and using thorough hand-washing techniques.

Transmission through contact with contaminated water, food, or soil is also possible in humans. This may happen by

  • eating contaminated food
  • drinking contaminated water or
  • through contact with broken skin or the membranes in the eyes or nose


Several types of vaccinations are available for leptospirosis in dogs. Some protect against only two serovars (subtypes) of leptospirosis while others provide protection against four serovars.

However, no vaccine provides protection against all naturally occurring serovars.

Because the leptospirosis vaccine is a non-core vaccine, it is important to determine your dog’s risk of exposure. Evaluate your dog’s lifestyle and weigh the risks versus the benefits of administering the vaccine.

Further, your veterinarian can help you determine the incidence of leptospirosis in your geographic area. Together, you can decide whether vaccination is appropriate for your dog.

Related articles:
Angry Vet On Leptospirosis
Canine Leptospirosis Vaccination Decisions: Traveling and the Return of the Vaccination Dilemma

Further reading:
Leptospirosis in Dogs

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