Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by several strains of Leptospira bacteria.  It is most common in warm and wet climates and least common in the Southwest, but can cause problems anywhere.

Dogs are at risk when they drink from stagnant water, roam on rural property or in barnyards, or catch rodents and other wild animals.  Leptospirosis is spread by contact with urine in infected animals, by eating infected animals, and rarely, by being bitten by an infected animal.

Leptospirosis is a difficult disease to diagnose.  Some dogs show no symptoms, while other dogs sicken quickly and die.  The symptoms for Leptospirosis are similar to a bad cold:  fever, shivering, muscle tremors, reluctance to move, not eating, increased thirst, changes in frequency and amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, jaundice, and liver and kidney failure.  Leptospiriosis can also cause bleeding disorders, so the dog may throw up or pass blood.

Diagnosis is on the basis of symptoms.  In addition, the veterinarian may use an antibody test or a DNA test to detect the bacteria in the animal’s blood.  Other tests may be necessary to detect the amount of damage done by the bacteria to organs such as the liver and kidneys.

Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics and supportive care.  The dog is given fluids and kept warm until the antibiotics and the dog’s immune system can kill the bacteria.  In extremely serious cases, oxygen therapy or kidney dialysis may be necessary.  Severe cases of Leptospirosis can kill the dog or permanently damage him.

Leptospirosis can be prevented by a vaccine every twelve months.  Contrary to popular opinion, the vaccine has no more adverse effects than any other vaccine, so if the dog is at risk of contracting the disease, vaccination is wise.  In addition, dogs should not be allowed to drink from stagnant or slow moving water, have contact with barnyard or wild animals, or with infected dogs.  A major source of infection is dog parks, where many dogs urinate then play in the same space.

Leptospirosis is contagious to people.  If your dog has Leptospriosis, you should avoid contact with his urine while he is sick.   If the dog vomits or urinates in the house, you should immediately clean it up with household cleaners while wearing gloves.  If you are immune compromised, you should consult your doctor if your dog develops Leptospirosis.