A grey dog walks through some water, where it could be at risk for catching leptospirosis.

One of the most important responsibilities of dog ownership is providing the preventive care your dog needs to avoid illness and disease. Regular check ups, parasite prevention and keeping your dog current on vaccinations all play a key role in its health and well-being. 

Several years ago, we added the Leptospirosis vaccine to our core vaccine program for dogs because cases of this disease were being reported in Colorado. This was a concern, not only because of the risk it presents to dogs, but as a zoonotic disease, Leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans and dog to human transmissions had also occurred.  

How Are Dogs Infected?

Leptospirosis is caused by a flexible, spiral-shaped bacteria known as a spirochete that is transmitted through the urine of an infected animal in both rural and urban areas. It is commonly found in bodies of water, such as rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, as well as in puddles, contaminated grass, plant material, and soil. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted through the saliva, mucus, and blood of an infected animal, shared water bowls, fabric chew toys, and through a wound or other break in the skin. 

Why Worry About This

Once inside the body, the Leptospira bacteria travel to the kidneys and cause a variety of problems, including, serious inflammation that can spread to the liver, lungs, eyes, spleen central nervous system and genital tract. If left untreated, the infection can also cause kidney and liver failure. In the worst cases, a leptospirosis infection can be fatal.  

It’s in Our Environment

Carried by rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), wildlife, livestock, and infected dogs, Leptospira bacteria can be present anywhere there is dampness or standing water, regardless of how much. Humidity and mud also contribute to an ideal environment for the bacteria to survive. Infected animals, including dogs, can transmit leptospirosis, even if they show no outward symptoms of the disease.

Leptospirosis is the most common zoonotic disease in the world and more than 200 strains of Leptospira bacteria have been identified world-wide. In areas where Leptospirosis vaccination is not widely implemented, infection in dogs is fairly common.

Symptoms of Infection

Leptospirosis symptoms in dogs can mimic other illnesses and may be easily missed, especially, if a dog does not appear very ill. However, any of the following symptoms can indicate a Leptospirosis infection so, do not ignore them, as an immediate check-up with your veterinarian is needed.

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent urination
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tender muscles
  • Jaundice (yellowish gums or skin tone) 
  • Shivering
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Abnormal bleeding

Whether your dog shows one symptom or several, addressing symptoms early on is imperative! If symptoms are allowed to persist without treatment, they will progress to severe illness, suffering, and death. You, other household members and dogs are also at risk for contracting the disease.

Medical Treatment    

Depending on the severity of the Leptospirosis infection, a treatment plan may involve several approaches, including, antibiotics, fluid therapy, oxygen therapy, close monitoring, and other supportive care. In severe cases, hospitalization and 24-hour care may be required. As a precaution, your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotic treatment for other dogs in the household, since it is likely they were exposed to the infected dog, as well as the original source of Leptospirosis contamination. 

Caring For Your Dog at Home

Since the illness can spread to humans through saliva, urine and other bodily fluids, any home care should be done using the following precautions:

  • Quarantine the infected dog in a separate room, away from other pets and family members.
  • Assign one member of the household (preferably an adult) to care for the dog. 
  • Avoid direct contact with the infected dog’s saliva, urine and mucus membranes.   
  • Use disposable gloves when handling the dog or any items used by the dog, including, food, water, feeding bowls and bedding.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with the dog, and clean shared surfaces using pet safe disinfectant soaps, cleaners, and wipes. 
  • Launder the dog’s bedding and blankets with detergent and hot water.
  • Give all medications/treatments as prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • Closely monitor the dog for changes or worsening of symptoms, and contact your veterinarian if the dog is not improving. 
  • Monitor other dogs in the household for symptoms and, if observed, contact your veterinarian immediately, as the dogs will also need treatment for the disease.

Preventing Leptospirosis

It is difficult to know where or when in the outdoor environment a dog may be exposed to Leptospirosis contamination or to another animal that is infected. Consequently, the best line of defense is through vaccination, even if a dog resides primarily indoors. 

The vaccination protocol for Leptospirosis that we follow at our facility is to administer one initial vaccine dose, followed by a second booster dose 3 to 4 weeks later (the second dose is necessary within this time frame for the vaccine to be effective). To maintain ongoing protection, an annual booster vaccination is recommended thereafter.  

It is important to note that, as with the administration of any vaccine, we require a physical exam with our veterinarian prior to vaccination for Leptospirosis. Further, since any vaccine can pose the risk of a reaction – although uncommon in most dogs – this should still be discussed with your veterinarian prior to the vaccine being given.  

If you have questions or concerns about Leptospirosis or your dog’s vaccination status, please contact us. Our team is here to help!