Dog Leptospirosis Veterinarian

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can cause serious illness in dogs.  The bacteria is most commonly found in warm, moist environments, particularly stagnant or slow moving water. Most dogs who develop the disease become infected by ingesting water contaminated with urine of rodents and wild animals.  Dogs can also be infected through bite wounds, as puppies from their mother, or ingestion of infected tissues. Although cats can also become infected with leptospirosis, it is much less common. Humans can also become infected with leptospirosis. In the following article, I will discuss leptospirosis in dogs as well as the diagnosis and treatment of this dangerous disease.

To date, there are over 200 known serovars or strains of leptospirosis but 5 are considered the most common.  After entering the body through mucous membranes of the gums or through wet or broken skin Leptospirosis then enters the bloodstream and begins to multiply rapidly, spreading to vital organs including the kidney, liver, spleen, eyes, and central nervous system.  Of these, the kidney is the most commonly affected organ followed by the liver. Dogs with leptospirosis infections can develop kidney and liver failure and can be very, very sick.

Symptoms of the disease can vary based on the stage of infection, susceptibility, and amount of virus in the body. Shivering can be the first sign accompanied by fever.   A yellow discoloration is sometimes noted to the whites of the patient’s eyes and skin. Affected dogs can display Anorexia, vomiting, dehydration, weakness, or bruising (petechiae). Some dogs can have a decreased temperature and extreme lethargy, passing away before the virus even has a chance to invade the kidneys or liver and present with other commonly seen signs. Changes in heart rate, respiratory rate, and respiratory effort can also be noted.

There are multiple diagnostic tests available to detect leptospirosis.  Routine blood work tests may reveal kidney or liver disease, electrolyte abnormalities and changes to white blood cell counts but additional testing is required for definitively diagnose the disease.

Treatment for leptospirosis centers around antibiotics and supportive care.  The degree of care varies based on the severity of the disease. With advanced or more severe infections, critical life-saving care is needed which may involve aggressive fluid therapy and correction of electrolyte disturbances, antiemetics, and blood transfusions if clotting deficiencies have developed.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine to help prevent the infection of leptospirosis and is available at all World of Animals veterinary hospitals.  The leptospirosis vaccine is commonly given as a series of 2 vaccines given 3-4 weeks apart, followed by a yearly booster vaccination. Prevention of disease also centers around eliminating stagnant water, controlling rodent populations, and isolating affected animals.

If you think your pet may have leptospirosis, an immediate consultation with a Veterinarian or veterinary specialist is recommended as leptospirosis is a serious disease and is contagious.  For questions regarding leptospirosis vaccination and prevention strategies contact our staff at World of Animals Veterinary Hospital and we can provide help and guidance in an effort to minimize the risk of leptospirosis to your dog.

Jeffrey Stupine VMD
Medical Director
World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals