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What are Leptospirosis?

You might see your dog flinching from your touch or be unwilling to move very much. It is vital to contact your veterinarian if your dog manifests symptoms after being in contact with a large number of other dogs or with wild animals as this disease is highly contagious and potentially very damaging to their health.

These bacterial infections can be transmitted across multiple species, including humans. Vaccines exist, but several strains are still dangerous to your dogs and can cause kidney and liver disease as well as death in young dogs.

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Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospira bacteria can infest multiple tissues including kidney, liver, spleen, eyes, the genital tract, and the nervous system. Therefore, the symptoms will vary with every animal, but some of the more common manifestations include:

  • Fever (103-104º)
  • Shivering
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Unwillingness to move
  • Jaundice
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of weight
  • General appearance of pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Hypothermia
  • Eye and nose (oculonasal) discharge
  • Acute - An acute infection will manifest very quickly. The bacteria rapidly spread to vital organs and symptoms will begin soon after initial contact with the contagion. This means muscle pain, high fever and in some cases, hypothermia severe enough to kill before the infection reaches the kidneys or liver.
  • Subacute - A slow growing problem which may show as dehydration, vomiting, fever or jaundice. It is also possible your dog will not present symptoms at all, but will still result in them spreading the disease through their bodily fluids and shedding leptospira for weeks or months. Unfortunately, the majority of leptospiral infections are subacute with the damage to the liver or kidneys undetected.

Causes of Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospira bacteria are spread through contact with infected tissue. This can be done through:

  • Ingestion of infected tissue
  • Contact with infected bodily fluids such as urine, saliva or blood
  • Contact with infected water
  • Contact with infected bedding
  • Contact with infected food
  • Contact with infected wildlife such as raccoons, mice, rats, skunks or hedgehogs.
  • Contact with infected livestock such as cows, horses, pigs or sheep.
  • Across the membrane while in-utero.

Freezing reduces the survival of the bacteria. As a result, infections are more common in summer, fall and temperate climates.

Diagnosis of Leptospirosis in Dogs

To diagnose this condition, be certain to give your veterinarian a full history of your pets health, condition, symptom manifestation and effects of their illness. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose this disease through:

  • Blood culturing - The blood can be agglutinized which will examine the presence of specific antibodies. This will determine the strain. However, if the condition is acute, it is possible the blood test will come out inconclusive or negative within the first 10 days post-infection. Therefore, it's important to submit multiple samples to be certain of ruling out a false-negative test.
  • Urine culture - If your dog has a chronic condition, shedding of the bacteria may be intermittent. The urine culture can be also contaminated by additional bacteria either from within the body or in the external environment.
  • A third testing option includes examining the samples microscopically. The bacteria are visible under a microscope, and it is even possible for your veterinarian to determine which strain through this method. However, like the other methods, if the bacteria aren't in that particular sample, it's best to provide additional samples.

Each of these methods has flaws due to the nature of the bacteria and the testing processes themselves. However, the combined examination through all three tests presents a far stronger statistical likelihood of accuracy.

Treatment of Leptospirosis in Dogs

If your dog has become dehydrated due to excessive vomiting, diarrhea, kidney or liver disease they will need to undergo fluid therapy using an IV drip or subcutaneous injection. Once it is established your dog has leptospirosis, your veterinarian will prescribe a round of antibiotics regardless of strain. The most recommended antibiotic for either acute or chronic conditions are doxycycline. Initial treatment may be penicillin for those dogs sensitive to doxycycline. These are often administered in a two-week time frame. Your veterinarian will discuss more specific strain treatment options with you once the strain is established. Additional medications may be needed to make your dog more comfortable if they are displaying additional symptoms of pain though of course the main focus should be the antibiotic course so that your pet does not become a lifetime carrier of these bacteria.

Recovery of Leptospirosis in Dogs

Dogs being treated for leptospirosis need not be completely isolated, but it is vital to minimize exposure of skin, mucous membranes and bodily fluids, especially blood and urine for the typical two-week treatment period. Additional visits to the veterinarian will be necessary to establish treatment efficacy.

To prevent this disease, it's important to limit your dog's contact with wildlife, livestock and with stagnant, still pools of water such as shared water dishes or closed ponds. If these are conditions to which your dog risks regular exposure, there are some vaccines for leptospirosis, so it is possible to minimize infection effects, especially the colonization of the kidneys. Unfortunately, most of these vaccines offer a year's worth of protection, they cannot be administered to puppies under eight weeks old and it is estimated that they only exist for four strains of leptospirosis which leaves multiple other varieties to be countered. It is possible for a dog to contract this bacterial infection again if exposed to the same sources, so the best prevention is to figure out the source and avoid it if possible.

Leptospirosis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Pit bull
Six Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Increased Urination
lack of appetite

Medication Used


Our dog was diagnosed with Lepto last week and was hospitalized for two days on fluids and antibiotics. His kidney levels were high but the vet said there was a chance they would come down after the two weeks of antibiotics. It has been 5 days since he has been home from the vet and is still very lethargic and has a lack of appetite still. He is still drinking ans urinating a lot. How long is the recovery from Lepto? Should he be significantly better by now? We are terrified that he has kidney failure

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2008 Recommendations
You should start seeing improvements in Rusko’s condition after around a week, but each case is different and it depends on a few different factors; treatment along with doxycycline for two weeks is the standard treatment for Leptospirosis. Five days is still early but you should return to your Veterinarian for another examination before the end of treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/generalized-conditions/leptospirosis/leptospirosis-in-dogs

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