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Leptospirosis Fact Sheet

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral shaped bacteria called leptospires.  It occurs worldwide and can affect humans as well as many wild and domestic animals, including dogs and cats.  Leptospirosis can develop into severe, life-threatening infections in the kidney, liver, brain, lung, and heart.

Is my pet at risk?

Leptospira organisms prefer warm, moist, alkaline environments.  They are more likely to be found in stagnant or slow moving water.  Environmental flooding can saturate the soils with organisms, prevent evaporation of contaminating animal urine, and prolong survival of organisms in surface water.  Peak incidence in dogs occurs July through November and often follows periods of heavy rainfall or flooding.

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Animals can become infected with leptospires through contact with infected urine, via venereal or placental transfer, through bite wounds, or ingestion of infected tissues. Indirect transmission can occur through exposure of animals to water sources, soil, food, or bedding that is contaminated with infected urine or other tissues.  Leptospires can penetrate mucous membranes, wet or macerated skin, or broken skin.

What are the signs of leptospirosis in pets?

The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary and are nonspecific.  Sometimes pets do not have any symptoms.  Common clinical signs reported in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and depression, stiffness, or severe muscle pain.  Generally, younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals.

How can I prevent Leptospirosis in my pet?

  • Vaccines are available for Leptospirosis.
    • Due to multiple strains of leptospres, the vaccine does not provide 100% protection. However, it is still the best line of defense against the bacteria.
  • Keep rodent problems (rats, mice, etc.) under control. Rodents can carry and spread the bacteria.

Is there treatment for Leptospirosis for my pet?

Yes, Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics.  If an animal is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and any organ damage may be less severe.  Other treatments methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required.