Of all the vaccines we offer her at Companion the one we are asked about the most is leptospirosis. The reason for this is due to leptospirosis vaccines not being considered a core vaccine for dogs like rabies, Bordetella, distemper, and parvo. This, unfortunately, leave far too many dogs unprotected from an illness that results in fatalities in 10-25% of the cases in which a dog contracts leptospirosis. While this may not seem like a significant enough number, consider that currently 80% of the United States have active leptospirosis cases; Tennessee is one of those states with active cases. It is for this reason, Dr. Anderson strongly urges that responsible pet owners, like yourself, include the leptospirosis vaccine in your pet’s core vaccines.

What is Leptospirosis & Where does it Occur

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the Leptospira bacteria. This bacterium is numerous, containing many different strains, that can be found worldwide in soil and water. The highest risk factor for leptospirosis can be found in exposure to slow-moving or stagnant water. However, it can also be contacted from wet, shaded grass or along the banks of rivers or lakes.

How is it Spread?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “dogs can become infected and develop leptospirosis if their mucous membranes (or skin with any wound, such as a cut or scrape) come into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water food or bedding; through a bite from an infected animal; by eating infected tissues or carcasses; and rarely through breeding. It can also be passed through the placenta from the mother dog to the puppies.” Given this information, it is easy to assume that your pet would be safe and therefore not need to be protected from leptospirosis. The reality is all dogs are at risk of exposure. The AVMA states, “any age, breed, sex of dog” is at risk. Furthermore, it does not matter if you live in the city, suburbs or in a rural community. The risk of exposure is equally high for everyone. That AVMA lists the following as common risk factors for dogs residing in the United States.

  • Exposure to or drinking from rivers, lakes or streams
  • Roaming on rural properties (because of exposure to potentially infected wildlife, farm animals, or water sources)
  • Exposure to wild animals or farm animal species, even if in the backyard
  • Contact with rodents or other dogs (such as in urban areas dog parks or multi dog facilities)

Signs of Leptospirosis

The AVMA states, “the signs of leptospirosis in dogs vary based on the strain of the bacteria, geographic location, and how the dog’s immune system reacts to the infection.” According to the AVMA, some infected dogs do not show any signs of illness; some have a mild and transient illness and recover spontaneously; and others develop severe, life-threatening illness.” Because the signs of leptospirosis can vary it is important for your pet to be examined by Dr. Anderson should your pet begin to act like sick. Some important symptoms of leptospirosis may include:

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Reluctance to move
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in the frequency or amount of urination
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes)
  • Painful inflammation within the eyes

Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure, which can occur with or without liver failure. Dogs can also develop severe lung disease and show high respiratory rates and have difficulty breathing. Bleeding disorders can also arise from leptospirosis. This bleeding disorders can cause blood-tinged vomit, urine, feces (stool) or saliva, nosebleeds and pinpoint red spots on the gums or skin. Dogs can also develop swollen legs (from fluid accumulation) or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen.


Should your pet show any of the signs mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact us so you can have your pet examined by Dr. Anderson. In addition to the examination, Dr. Anderson may also need to do x-rays, blood test, urine tests, an ultrasound, and/or antibody testing. Dr. Anderson only knows what tests to run after examining your pet and determining the severity of the disease and symptoms.

According to the AVMA, “leptospirosis is generally treats with antibiotics and supportive care. Depending on the severity of their illness, affected dogs may require fluid therapy and nutritional support.” The AVMA continues, “in extreme cases oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation (support for breathing). Kidney dialysis, or other intensive care measures might be necessary.” Even if your pet recovers from the infection, there is still a risk of your pet having permanent residual kidney or liver damage. This damage could mean your pet is on dialysis to provide support until the kidney are able to recover their function. If you are a home with more than one dog, then all dogs will need to be treated for leptospirosis.

Prevention: Cheaper than Treatment

The treatment for leptospirosis can cause a financial strain on the budget. The good news is that there is a preventative measure you can take to ensure you, yes leptospirosis can spread from dog to humans, and your pet are protected. The leptospirosis vaccine can “effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months,” according to that AVMA. If your pet has never had the vaccine before then it does require one booster. The initial cost of the first vaccine and booster is $48.42. After your pet has received its booster, it is protected for one year. Annual leptospirosis vaccines can then be had for $24.41; far cheaper sum then the total of treating your pet should they contract the disease.

The AVMA also suggests reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of the Leptospira bacteria. This would include, but is not limited to:

  • Avoid letting your dog drink from or swim in rivers, lakes, ponds, marshy areas or slow moving or stagnant water.
  • Minimize contact with wildlife, farm animals and rodents, including carcasses.

If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, the AVMA suggests the following precautions to protect yourself.

  • Administer antibiotics properly as prescribed by your veterinarian
  • Avoid contact with your dog’s urine
  • Wear gloves when cleaning up urine
  • If your dog urinates in your home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant
  • Ecnourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where people or other animals will have access
  • Wash your hands after handling your pet