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What Is Leptospirosis and How Can You Protect Your Dog?

11/06/2018 by Danielle Guercio
November 6th, 2018 by Danielle Guercio


Leptospirosis is a particularly nasty infection in dogs that can cause flu-like symptoms and unfortunately, can be fatal. It is more common in areas with warm climates and high annual rainfall, but it can occur anywhere. The CDC reports that the bacteria enters through mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) or skin, especially if there is a cut or scratch. Most veterinarians will warn you that the biggest culprit is a pup drinking puddle water or swimming, so water-bound dogs are especially at risk.

The Leptospirosis bacteria is zoonotic, which means it can cause illness in both animals and humans. It’s important to not only protect your pet for their health and well-being, but also for that of your human family, too.


Leptospirosis can cause various symptoms in both humans and animals, chiefly among them:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and muscle tenderness
  • Shivering
  • Reluctance to move or lethargy
  • Dehydration symptoms such as increased thirst or changes in the frequency or amount of urination
  • Loss of appetite

It’s an unpleasant event that can have two peaks or an extended period of symptoms, which can lead to other complications, including:

  • Jaundice (liver complications with symptoms like yellow skin and eyes as the organ cannot filter bile)
  • Painful inflammation within the eyes
  • Kidney failure with/without liver failure
  • Severe lung disease and difficulty breathing
  • Bleeding disorders, which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva; nosebleeds; and pinpoint red spots (which may be visible on the gums and other mucous membranes or on light-colored skin).
  • Affected dogs can also develop swollen legs (from fluid accumulation) or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen.

This illness can sometimes go unnoticed as initial symptoms disappear before returning with a vengeance, which may cause the above organ damage.

How is Leptospirosis Transmitted?

Leptospirosis is spread through the bacteria coming into contact with a dog’s mucous membranes. The bacteria lives in bodies of water like rivers, lakes or streams, as well as through wildlife and rodent exposure. So, if a dog is exposed to infected water, urine, soil, food, bedding, even a bite from an infected rat, they can be infected.

Diagnosis & Treatment

An accurate diagnosis is key, so be sure to keep track of all symptoms and their frequency when consulting a vet. The course of treatment typically involves rest, rehydration, and antibiotics. With all antibiotic prescriptions, even in dogs, it’s important to complete the entire course of medication to properly kill off the bacteria and ensure that it doesn’t come back. There is a risk of permanent kidney or liver damage.

Once diagnosed, take great care to protect you and your pet from all contact with urine, feces, or blood of any infected animal. The infection can last in their excrement for some time even after the illness itself has subsided. Though not overtly deadly, the infection can be severe and life threatening, especially if not treated. Remember: wash your hands thoroughly and often if your dog is infected.


Great news – Leptospirosis can be prevented by a commonly administered vaccine! If your vet hasn’t already told you about it, go ahead and ask.  Currently available vaccines effectively prevent the infection and protect dogs for at least 12 months.

A few other tips to helping prevent a Lepto infection in your home (either pet or human):

  • After hurricanes and flooding, bacteria can enter waterways, so beware when playing at parks and the wilderness after storm runoff, as it can even pollute beaches when the conditions are just right.
  • Leptospirosis bacteria is most frequently transmitted to people who swim in outdoor bodies of water that have become contaminated. This is also how it can infect your dog, as water ingestion by a swimming dog is almost unavoidable. Be sure to heed any warnings about poor water quality even if your dog is just chasing a ball nearby on land. These contaminated waters are not safe for any animal, as infected wildlife like opossum, raccoon and deer may drink it before spreading the bacteria further.
  • Additionally, Leptospirosis can be found in rodent infestations, making it more common in urban areas, as it’s no longer just coming from yucky ponds. Preventing excess contact with the excrement and urine of rodents and strange dogs is important.

Unexpected accident or illness? That’s what we’re here for! Many pet parents rely on pet health insurance to pay up to 90% of their vet bills, so they can focus on what really matters: getting great health care for their pet. Find out more by getting a free quote.