Learning About Leptospirosis

Posted by DeniseDVC on April 20, 2019  /   Posted in blog

Adapted from StopLepto.com


Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that causes serious illness in dogs, other animals, and people. The disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires that live in water or warm, wet soil.

Initial signs of leptospirosis include fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Left untreated, it can develop into a more severe, life-threatening illness that affects the kidneys, liver, brain, lungs, and heart.

The prevalence of canine leptospirosis has increased in recent years; as many as 8.2% of dogs are shedding leptospires, some asymptomatically. Weather changes, population growth, and habitat encroachment have all increased human and canine exposure to pathogens and their carriers.


Transmission of leptospirosis can occur through direct contact or indirectly through environmental exposure.

  1. Leptospires enter the body through mucous membranes in the mouth, eyes, or nose, or through abraded or water-softened skin.
  2. Leptospires multiply in a host animal’s bloodstream.
  3. Leptospires move from the bloodstream to the kidneys and other tissues to continue reproducing.
  4. Leptospires pass from the kidneys into the urine; then are shed back into the environment.
  5. Other dogs, wild animals, or people can become infected through direct or indirect contact.

Clinical Signs of Leptospirosis

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Depression
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Blood in urine is uncommon, but may occur
  • Respiratory distress

Dogs at Risk

Dogs at risk for developing leptospirosis include those with:

  • Access to ponds, lakes, streams, or standing water
  • Exposure to urine from other infected animals, including:
    • Other dogs in shelters or other pet care facilities
    • Wildlife (e.g. rodents, raccoons, opossum, deer), either through direct contact with urine or through contaminated water

Threats to Canine and Human Health

As leptospirosis progresses, it can result in:

  • Leptospiremia
    • Leptospires can multiply in the bloodstream and spread to many tissues and organs
  • Vascular damage/thrombocytopenia
    • Can lead to kidney failure and interfere with liver function
    • Contributes to coagulation abnormalities and hemorrhages
  • Severe kidney and liver damage
    • Acute renal failure occurs in dogs with severe clinical signs
    • Acute hepatic dysfunction or chronic hepatitis have been caused by specific serovars
  • Leptospiruria (urinary shedding)
    • Infected dogs can enter a carrier state where organisms may persist in the kidney and be shed in the urine for weeks to months

What to Do

If you have questions about the disease, or about vaccinating your dog for Leptospirosis, please ask us at your next visit!

To learn even more about Leptospirosis, watch the video below.

  • Deepwood Veterinary Clinic

    Deepwood Veterinary Clinic
    7300 Ordway Rd.
    Centreville, VA 20121
    (703) 631-9133
    email: [email protected]
  • Office Hours

    Open 7 Days a Week, 8am - 8pm
    Monday - Saturday by Appointment
    Sunday for urgent/emergency care

  • Map and Directions

^ Back to Top
Top of Page