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Canine Leptospirosis

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Jason Pintar, DVM, DACVIM
Garden State Veterinary Specialists


Leptospirosis is a serious life threatening infectious disease seen in dogs and sometimes people. It is caused by a spiral shaped parasitic bacteria that is transmitted through the urine of infected individuals. The bacteria can infect multiple wildlife species and be shed in the infected individualís urine for months to years. Possible reservoirs of infection in New Jersey include deer, raccoons, squirrels, mice, rats, woodchucks, and opossums. Domestic large animals including horses and cattle may also serve as a source of infection for dogs.

Dogs contract Leptospirosis from direct contact with an infected animalís urine. Because the bacteria die rapidly in dry environments, the incidence of infection is greater during rainy periods. Most cases are diagnosed in the late summer and early fall, but cases can occur at any time of the year. Leptospirosis used to be seen mostly in rural hunting or sporting dogs, but recently there has been a shift towards dogs living in urban environments. While we do not fully understand why this occurs, it is most likely due to more close contact with wildlife reservoirs in recently developed areas. There does not appear to be any breed predilection for this disease, and even small or toy breed dogs can be affected.

Leptospirosis causes disease by damaging the kidneys and sometimes the liver. In the most severe cases, kidney and liver failure can occur. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, increased or decreased thirst and urination, and yellow discoloration of the skin (jaundice). This can be a fatal condition, and prompt medical treatment is essential for a successful outcome. Because people can also become infected with Leptospirosis, one should exhibit caution when handling a potentially infected dog and their urine.

A vaccine is available to protect dogs from this serious disease. While no vaccine is 100% effective, inoculating dogs against Leptospirosis can significantly reduce their risk of serious illness. For maximum efficacy, a series of two vaccinations needs to be given three weeks apart, and then a single dose should be repeated annually. Eliminating rodent infestations and contamination of pet food and minimizing a dogís contact with standing water can also reduce their risk of infection.

As with all medical conditions, you should seek the advice of your family veterinarian if you have concerns about Leptospirosis in your dog. Your veterinarian is also the best source of information regarding vaccination against this disease.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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