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Leptospirosis in Dogs

What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs?

Leptospirosis is a disease affecting dogs and other mammals, including humans, caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria known as a spirochete. Dogs can contract leptospirosis through various means, such as coming into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil or bedding, water containing the bacteria, open wounds, bites, reproductive fluids, or ingestion of infected tissues. Transmission from mother dog to puppy can also occur through the placenta.

Leptospirosis is considered a serious medical condition. Once infected, the bacteria spread through the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation before settling in the kidneys and sometimes the liver or other organs, leading to inflammation, pain, and potential organ failure. The bacteria are then expelled into the environment through urine.

Wildlife like raccoons, skunks, opossums, and rats, as well as farm animals such as cows and pigs, are common carriers of leptospirosis.

Extra precautions should be taken when traveling or residing in rural areas, as leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. If you suspect your dog may have leptospirosis, seek veterinary assistance immediately and avoid contact with your dog’s bodily fluids, particularly urine.


Once infected, dogs typically exhibit symptoms within about a week. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some dogs may recover on their own. Common symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite leading to eventual weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Swelling of the limbs or abdomen (Edema)
  • Bruising
  • Gum bleeding
  • Presence of blood in urine, stool, or nose
  • Muscle pain, stiffness, and reluctance to move
  • Jaundice, evident by yellowing of the eyes, gums, or skin
  • Changes in thirst and urination patterns
  • Oral ulcers and halitosis (bad breath)
  • Difficulty breathing and coughing
  • Uveitis, which may cause cloudy or red eyes with squinting
  • Dehydration
  • Sudden miscarriage in pregnant dogs


Leptospirosis is prevalent across the United States and various other nations, especially in regions with warm and humid climates. The bacteria responsible for leptospirosis can persist for weeks to months and readily spread through water sources like lakes, ponds, and streams, as well as through soil contaminated with urine.

Dogs that are young, unvaccinated, or immunocompromised face a higher risk of infection, although leptospirosis can affect dogs of all ages, breeds, and genders.


Leptospirosis becomes a concern when a combination of your dog’s symptoms and the results of blood work and urine testing suggest it. Typically, kidney and liver values may show abnormalities. X-rays may also be suggested, particularly for dogs experiencing respiratory issues.

Ultimately, diagnosing leptospirosis requires PCR testing (which detects leptospirosis genetic material in a sample) of blood, urine, or both to identify the bacterial DNA. Alternatively, MAT testing (a microscopic agglutination test) measures a dog’s antibody level, or titer, against the disease.

The MAT test is usually repeated after a few weeks to help determine the specific strain causing the infection. Additionally, there’s an in-house test that serves as a helpful screening tool but should be confirmed with either PCR or MAT if it yields a positive result.

Providing information about recent travel history, exposure to other dogs or wildlife, rural areas, or bodies of water visited is crucial. This information can raise suspicion for leptospirosis and prompt the medical team to consider the possibility of an infectious zoonotic disease.


Initially, dogs diagnosed with leptospirosis will require stabilization and treatment at the veterinary hospital.

Supportive care measures, such as administering pain medications, antiemetics (to prevent vomiting), appetite stimulants, and liver supplements may be advised.

Fluid therapy, often supplemented with electrolytes, is essential for treatment. Intravenous fluids are crucial not only to address dehydration but also to replenish fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea. They also aid in improving blood flow through the damaged kidneys. At the hospital, dogs will typically receive injectable antibiotics such as AMOXI 500.

Once symptoms are under control and the dog can eat independently, they will be prescribed oral doxycycline, the preferred oral treatment, typically administered twice a day for several weeks.

It usually takes about a week of antibiotic therapy for the dog to stop shedding bacteria in their urine. During this period, minimize interactions with the dog and take necessary disinfection and protective measures to prevent the transmission of leptospirosis. In the hospital, a catheter may be inserted in the dog to reduce exposure risk for the veterinary team.

Renal replacement therapy, also known as dialysis, can be considered to improve prognosis, particularly for dogs not producing sufficient urine despite appropriate therapy. In some cases, only a few dialysis sessions may be necessary. Although dialysis may not always be readily available and can sometimes be costly, it is a valuable therapeutic option that should be discussed with the veterinarian.

In certain circumstances, humane euthanasia may be considered. This includes cases where dogs experience severe kidney or liver failure, extensive hemorrhaging with an inability to clot, respiratory issues, or instances where treatment fails to improve symptoms.

Living and Management

After a few days of therapy, your dog will likely be discharged based on their response to treatment. Follow-up appointments will be scheduled in the subsequent days and weeks to monitor blood work and ensure proper functioning of the kidneys and other organs.

Fortunately, the prognosis for recovering dogs is generally favorable. However, in some instances, despite appropriate therapy, dogs may continue to experience lingering effects of leptospirosis, such as kidney and liver issues.

Long-term medications and a specialized diet may be required, along with ongoing follow-up appointments to track the progression of the disease. Until instructed otherwise, ensure your dog urinates in an area that can be easily cleaned and disinfected, away from water sources.

When caring for your dog at home, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including goggles, mask, disposable gloves, and gown. Use this PPE during interactions with your dog, particularly when disinfecting urine-soaked areas or bathing hair contaminated with urine. Properly clean and disinfect all bedding materials.

Leptospirosis is susceptible to most household disinfectants and bleach. The disease has a limited survival rate in the environment and is vulnerable to UV irradiation and desiccation (moisture removal). It’s crucial to note that dogs can be reinfected with leptospirosis in the future, so similar precautions should be maintained even after recovery.


Preventing leptospirosis in dogs can be challenging due to the diverse range of bacterial strains involved. A vaccine, administered in two injections three to four weeks apart followed by annual boosters, targets several key strains of leptospirosis.

While this vaccine significantly reduces the risk of your dog contracting the disease, it cannot provide absolute prevention. Additionally, vaccines do not offer 100% immunity but can often mitigate the severity of infection if it occurs. Different vaccines contain varying strains, so it’s important to discuss the most suitable option with your veterinarian.

Other preventive measures include avoiding potential sources of contamination, such as restricting access to stagnant water, minimizing contact with wildlife, employing pest control measures when necessary, and preventing access to garbage.

Leptospirosis is both transmissible and zoonotic, meaning it can infect other dogs and humans. During treatment, ensure your dog does not interact with other animals and use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling your dog.

Regular handwashing and maintaining good overall hygiene are essential. Avoid exposing your dog to open wounds or sharing bodily fluids with them.

Leptospirosis in Dogs FAQs

How likely is it for a dog to contract leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a globally distributed disease, thus presenting a considerable risk of infection for dogs.

With the expansion of transportation networks, increased mobility of both people and their pets, pet relocation initiatives by shelters, and the occurrence of natural disasters like floods and hurricanes, the incidence of leptospirosis has risen.

Can leptospirosis in dogs be treated at home?

No, it cannot. Leptospirosis is a severely debilitating illness, but with appropriate treatment, survival rates are high. Treatment necessitates antibiotics and fluid therapy administered at a veterinary hospital.

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