« What is leptospirosis in dogs? » | This article presents pet owners with an overview of a zoonotic disease called leptospirosis. It explains the symptoms, treatments and ways of preventing it in dogs. If you wish to read comprehensive scientific information, you can follow the link  listed in the « Further information » section.
- This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease (bacterial) affecting dogs, among other mammals. It takes its name from the micro-organism responsible for causing the symptoms, a spirochete from the genus Leptospira.
Dogs infected with Leptospira will predominantly suffer from kidney and liver problems which can manifest themselves under a more or less severe form.
Leptospirosis is classified as a zoonotic disease since it can also infect human beings. The spirochete is found worldwide and tends to prefer alkaline soil, as well as warmer and moist locations.
How does leptospirosis affect dogs?
How is the disease transmitted?
There is a risk factor to consider when it comes down to leptospirosis. Dogs are at higher risk when they tend to live (or play) in areas with contaminated waters and/or where other animals hosting strains of Leptospira can be found such as rats, racoons, skunks and opossum, to cite a few.
There is also an element of seasonality to consider with the incidence of the disease. Heavy rainfalls tend to be linked with the observation of leptospirosis cases.
Leptospirosis can be transmitted in 2 ways:
- Directly, through contact with the pathogen:
- bite wound
- venereal transfer
- placental transfer
- ingestion of contaminated tissues
- Indirectly, through exposure to a contaminated source:
What are the symptoms in dogs?
Dogs infected with leptospira could die suddenly. However, this is rarely the case. Instead, they will either suffer the acute or chronic version of the disease which can involve some of the following symptoms:
- muscle ache, back pain
- unwillingness to move
- increased drinking
- increase urination
What are the available treatments?
What to expect from the veterinarians?
Dogs with leptospirosis will likely have a fever, be dehydrated and are at increased risk of hypovolaemic shock.
The renal function can be impaired, leading to signs indicative of renal disease. Good functioning of the liver can be affected to the point the dog displays symptoms linked with liver failure.
Veterinarians will have to carry blood tests and urinalysis to gather a picture of the situation. Imaging tools, such as x-rays and ultrasonography, will help to provide further data on internal organs such as kidney and liver.
Other more specific tests can be carried out by a laboratory, to establish a diagnosis of leptospirosis.
The treatment is designed to address the symptoms and to support vital functions, as well as eradicating the infectious agent from the body with the relevant prescription medicines. In severe cases of renal disease, dogs might have to be referred to specialised centres for dialysis.
Most of the dogs will survive at a rate established between 70 and 85%. However, pet owners should be aware that dogs might have to carry on living with chronic renal and liver problems.
Is leptospirosis a preventable disease?
Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, pet owners are advised to be mindful of the areas where they live in, so they can take steps to protect both themselves and their dogs. It might be worth checking if there are reports of leptospirosis cases. Information can be obtained from local vets and/or other relevant public health authorities.
When living in an area classified at risk, dog owners should prevent their beloved companions from drinking water from suspicious sources (ponds, puddles and alike equally frequented by infected wildlife). They can also check their pets for any skin wound and graze, which can represent another way of catching the disease.
A vaccine is available, although it only protects against the type of Leptospira present in it. The length of immunity might also vary. Hence, it’s best for pet owners to discuss with their vets so they can gain thorough understanding of the products available and recommended for use at their practices.
Further source of information
 In depth explanation on Leptospirosis can be found here