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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Condition Overview

Leptospira are found in wild and domestic animals. the bacteria are spread in the urine, often making their way into water sources and remaining infective in the soil for up to 6 months. Rats, pigs, raccoons, cattle, skunks, and opossums appear to be the primary reservoirs.


Most infections are mild and do not show clinical signs. Signs appear 4-12 days after exposure. Fever is present in the early stage. Other signs are loss of appetite for several days, vomiting, lethargy, depression, muscle pain, and sometimes diarrhea, or possible blood in the urine.

In severe cases, the whites of the dog's eyes turn yellow (jaundice). This indicated hepatitis with destruction of liver cells. Coagulation problems can ensue, with spontaneous bleeding from the mouth and blood in the stools.


The cases of leptospirosis may be increasing in numbers due to the increase of housing in suburbs, and the increasing contact between domestic pets and wildlife. Spirochetes enter a dog's system through a break in the skin or when the dog drinks contaminated water. Dogs who spend a lot of time in the water are at increased risk, as are dogs who drink out of puddles. Also at increased risk are dogs who spend time in yards that get a lot of runoff or stay wet after it rains.


The diagnosis can be suspected based on the dog's clinical signs. Tests of the kidney and liver function will be abnormal. Spirochetes can be detected in the urine and blood by fluorescent antibody staining. Blood tests are available to confirm diagnosis.


Severely ill dogs should be hospitalized for public health reasons and to provide more intensive care. Antibiotic combinations of penicillin and streptomycin are effective against the disease, although doxycycline is now routinely used as well. Enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin are sometimes used. Supportive measures include controlling vomiting and diarrhea, correcting dehydration with intravenous fluids, and maintaining nutrition.


There is a vaccine for Leptospirosis. Leptospira bacterins may protect against two to four of the most common subspecies of bacteria that cause leptospirosis. The two-serovar bacterin may be incorporated into a DHPP shot given at 12 weeks of age. Many vets give four-serovar bacterin as a seperate injection as early as 12 weeks and then again two to three weeks later.

Leptospira bacterin has been responsible for 70% of post-vaccination DHLPP anaphylactic shock reactions. Toy breeds and puppies younger than 12 weeks old seem to have the highest rate of reactions to this bacterin. In addition, the two-serovar vaccines do not protect against the two species that are currently responsible for the majority of the cases. Accordingly, routine vaccination is now considered optional. Leptospirosis is not contained in all the combination vaccines and can be given seperately.

Both Fort Dodge and Pfizer have vaccines that now cover all of the four primary werovars of leptospirosis. These are subunit vaccines so there is less chance of an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Immunity following the vaccination averages about 4-6 months. Therefore, if vaccination is important, it may be advisable to revaccinate every 6 months.


Please contact your veterinarian if you suspect your pet may be afflicted with this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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