Springtime Safety Series – Leptospirosis

By March 26, 2013 March 28th, 2013 Parasites, Safety
Image of Leo isolated

Caption:  Leo, featured above, is one of our staff member’s dogs.  Leo was treated for a leptospirosis infection 2.5 years ago.  Leo is an example that even small breed dogs may be at risk for this bacterial infection.  Leo had renal leptospirosis, which was treated and cleared, and Leo has had no complications since his treatment. 


 Leptospirosis in Dogs


 With the warm weather rapidly approaching, it is a good idea to brush up on some of the springtime hazards that may affect your pet(s).   Over the next few weeks we will discuss some of the common springtime concerns for pets.   We will be starting our series by discussing Leptospirosis in dogs.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can affect a dog’s blood, liver, and kidneys. This bacteria is passed through the infected host’s urine.  The bacteria that causes the illness are carried primarily by raccoons, rats and other rodents, but dogs that are infected with the disease can infect other dogs as well.  Lepto has been diagnosed in all types of dogs, and all breeds and sizes are at risk.   The number of leptospirosis cases has risen dramatically in recent years.  Today, leptospirosis is the number one infectious cause of acute kidney failure in dogs. 

How is my dog exposed?

Ingestion of contaminated water sources is the most common means of transmission, but the bacteria can be contracted through damaged or thin skin as well.  Lepto is more commonly picked up in the spring.  This is likely due to the snow melting, creating puddles that may be contaminated with infected urine, and the increased presence of wild animals.  


Leptospirosis is an odd disease that can often show no signs or symptoms at all. In these cases the bacteria are eventually defeated by the dog’s natural defenses. Other times, and more often, however, the disease can be life threatening to the infected dog. The three main forms of the disease are hemorrhagic (infection in the blood, causing bleeding), renal (infecting the kidneys), and icteric (infecting the liver).

Hemorrhagic Leptospirosis tends to start with a high fever, loss of appetite, and general lethargy. Small hemorrhages start to occur in the mouth and eyes and the dog may develop extreme bloody vomiting and diarrhea. This form of the disease is often fatal.

Icteric Leptospirosis will often start the same way as the hemorrhagic form; with fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The mouth and whites of the eyes will take on a yellow appearance, similar to victims of jaundice. In some cases the dog’s skin may also appear yellow and jaundiced.

Renal Leptospirosis also starts with fever, appetite loss, and lethargic depression, but eventually leads to kidney failure.

All three forms of the disease are treatable and curable, and all three forms can be potentially fatal. Often dogs that survive renal Leptospirosis will have chronic kidney disease for the rest of their lives.

Is your dog at risk?

  • Does your dog go outdoors?
  • Does your dog drink from or wade in standing water (puddles, streams)?
  • Is your dog exposed to areas where wildlife have been? (this could be as simple as your own backyard)
  • Do you take your dog to dog parks or day care?
  • Do you live in a newly developed area or near farmland or woods?
  • Has lepto been diagnosed in your area in dogs or people?
  • Do you have any wet leaves piles in your backyard?


Treatment is generally accomplished with the use of intravenous (IV) antibiotics and IV fluids.  If the disease is caught early enough it is generally successful. Cases of Leptospirosis in North America are fairly rare, thanks to the development of a vaccine. Puppies are inoculated for the disease as early as six weeks of age and receive annual renewal shots to maintain their immunity.

Vaccination and clean, hygienic conditions are the best way to avoid Leptospirosis in dogs. If you are unsure if your pet may be at risk, feel free to contact your veterinarian or veterinary staff to discuss your pet’s risk. The leptospirosis vaccine is the most likely of all dog vaccinations to cause an adverse reaction in the dog. This reaction is generally mild and most often includes lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression. These effects last only a few days and afterward the dog is fine and, more importantly, protected from the disease.

If you have any questions or would like to protect your pet against leptospirosis you can contact the clinic at 905-434-2885 to set up an appointment.



Thickson Road Pet Hospital, 1650 Victoria St. E., Whitby.

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