Leptospirosis: A Primer for Dog Owners

Brown dog laying down looking sadWhile it isn’t a disease that gets a lot of press, leptospirosis is a serious disease that dog owners need to be familiar with. This bacterial disease not only affects dogs but can also infect people, as well.

Leptospirosis is common in the New Jersey area, and infection rates are on the rise. Keep reading to learn what it is and how to protect yourself and your pets.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial organism that lives in the urine of infected animals. The bacteria attack the liver and kidneys, resulting in serious disease.

Pets who are infected may have:

  • A fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Reluctance to move
  • A painful abdomen

Leptospirosis is transmitted in the urine of infected animals. Dogs are usually exposed to it when they come into contact with urine from a wild animal such as a raccoon, squirrel, opossum, or deer that has the disease. Cats can also become infected with leptospirosis but rarely become ill.

Less commonly, leptospirosis can also be transmitted via ingestion of infected tissues, across the placenta, and through bite wounds.

Fortunately, because leptospirosis is a bacteria, we are able to use antibiotics to clear the infection once it is diagnosed. Any damage done to the liver and kidneys prior to treatment is often irreversible, though. During antibiotic treatment, many pets also need to be hospitalized for supportive care.

The Zoonotic Factor

A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed from people to animals and vice versa. Leptospirosis falls into this category along with such infamous diseases as rabies.

People can become infected with leptospirosis just as pets can through exposure to wild animal urine in the environment. Unfortunately, however, humans may also become infected with leptospirosis by exposure to a pet who is shedding the bacteria. It is estimated that about one-third of human leptospirosis cases result from exposure to a pet with the infection.

Preventing Leptospirosis

Luckily we do have some very effective ways to prevent infection with this devastating disease. Be sure to:

  • Discourage wild animals from living on your property
  • Take care of rodent infestations promptly
  • Eliminate standing water when possible where wild animal urine can collect
  • Do not allow your pet to drink from puddles
  • Vaccinate your pet against leptospirosis.

Most pets should be vaccinated for leptospirosis. Although vaccination does not completely eliminate infection, it does decrease the severity of illness should your dog become infected. This is because there are many strains of leptospirosis, similar to the flu virus.

Leptospirosis is a serious disease that we are seeing more and more of in the area. Please talk with us about vaccinating your pet in order to help reduce the chances of this potentially devastating disease.