Jake Man at park

Jake Man

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can be found in most animals, including livestock (cattle, pigs and sheep) and wildlife (deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rats and other rodents).  The bacteria are passed via the urine into water sources, where they can reside.

Is this a problem where I live?

Leptospirosis is prevalent in rural, suburban and urbanized areas.  The bacteria can be present in any stagnant surface water, moist soil and recreational water sources such as ponds and lakes.  Additionally, natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes may present and increase risk of exposure to this disease.

Can my dog get lepto?

  • Your dog can become infected with Leptospira by drinking, swimming in or walking through contaminated water.  Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through a cut in the skin or through mucous membranes such as eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Leptospirosis is a contagious disease that can be transmitted from dog to dog.  In urban areas, infected dogs can transmit the disease to otherwise-low-risk dogs.
  • Exposure risk increases during the summer and early  fall months, and other periods of high rainfall.

Can cats catch this disease?

Although cats are potentially at risk for leptospirosis, they appear to have natural resistance.  For this reason, cats are not vaccinated for leptospirosis.

Can people get Leptospirosis?

  • Yes, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 200 human cases of leptospirosis a year are identified in the United States.
  • While the disease is rarely fatal in humans, it can cause severe illness.
  • You may reduce disease risks by complying with the following preventative measures:
    • Vaccinate your dog and livestock.
    • Avoid water that might be contaminated with the bacteria, especially water that is stagnant.
    • Practice good sanitation, including washing your and your children’s hands – especially when handling anything that might have your dog’s urine on it.
    • If your occupation or lifestyle involves routine exposure to wildlife or standing water, wear protective clothing to avoid exposure.

What are the signs of Leptospirosis in Dogs?

Look for the following signs that could indicate your dog has been infected with Leptospira:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice, marked by a yellow cast in the gums of the mouth and whites of the eyes.

In most severe cases, the disease can lead to kidney failure or liver failure and may be fatal.

How is Leptospirosis diagnosed and treated?

  • Your veterinarian is the best person to diagnose and treat leptospirosis because leptospirosis can look like many other diseases.  It is a challenge to diagnose quickly and may require numerous blood and urine tests.  The diagnostic process can be frustrating and costly.
  • To effectively treat leptospirosis, your veterinarian may recommend a combination of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, as well as other aggressive therapies.

Maggie and Jake

How can I protect my dog from Leptospirosis?

  • Remember … Protection = Prevention!  To help protect your dog from this potentially fatal disease, vaccination is key.  By vaccinating your dog before exposure to the disease, you may avoid the emotional and financial trauma of dealing with this disease.
  • Vaccines are affordable, convenient and safe.  Talk to your veterinarian about which vaccine is best and how to incorporate it into your dog’s routine vaccination program.

Do vaccines prevent the most common canine leptospira?

  • The most complete leptospirosis protection is with vaccines containing the four most common strains of Letospira bacteria diagnosed today.
  • Cornell University reported that the vast majority of leptospirosis cases they diagnosed in dogs were cause by two strains.
  • Vaccination for leptospirosis is routinely administered to dogs in combination with other common canine vaccines.
  • Your veterinarian will initially recommend a two-shot series.  Re-vaccination frequency will be based on your dog’s risk of exposure.