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Health & Wellness

Leptospirosis in dogs — symptoms and the vaccine

Here’s how the condition spreads so easily

Being a pet parent means keeping a close eye on what your pup is up to — especially if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors. If your pup’s lifestyle includes hunting, herding or being around bodies of water or soil, you’ll want to learn more about the risks of leptospirosis in dogs. 

What is leptospirosis in dogs?

“Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the infection of a bacteria known as Leptospira,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. “Once a dog is infected, Leptospira enters the blood causing swelling of the blood vessels, veins and arteries and internal bleeding.”

According to Dr. McCullough, the disease usually spreads through urine from infected animals — typically rodents. Large dog breeds or those that herd, hunt or work outdoors are more susceptible to leptospirosis because the disease can live in contaminated water or soil for months. It can be spread through contact with infected pets’ bedding or food, too, she adds. 

Leptospirosis is contagious to other animals and people, so it’s important to practice caution if your pup contracts this disease. 

“Infected dogs should not be allowed to urinate in areas used by other dogs,” Dr. McCullough says. “Pet parents with infected dogs should wear gloves and wash their hands after handling their dog and their items.” 

Leptospirosis symptoms in dogs

Take your dog to the vet if you start noticing the following signs of leptospirosis: 

  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes and gums)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal pain

Veterinarians will often diagnose leptospirosis in dogs by performing a physical exam, blood work, urine testing, X-rays and/or an ultrasound. It’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian about specific tests designed to detect Leptospira bacteria in a dog’s blood, Dr. McCullough says.

Act fast if your dog starts showing symptoms of leptospirosis. Once the Leptospira bacteria enter a dog’s body, it can cause swelling and damage to the kidneys, liver, spleen, eyes, lungs and nervous system. 

Treatment options for dogs with leptospirosis

Treatment options for leptospirosis depend on the severity of your pup’s case. Sometimes, antibiotics will be the only treatment necessary. Other instances, they may need to stay at the vet hospital. 

“Some dogs need to be hospitalized to receive fluid therapy, anti-nausea medications and intensive nursing care,” Dr. McCullough says. “In severe cases, dialysis and blood transfusions may be required.”

A dog’s recovery time also depends on the severity of their case. Dr. McCullough says that it may take between 2 to 4 weeks, or longer, for pups to recover from leptospirosis. 

While your dog is recovering at home, there are some things you can do to make them feel more comfortable. Dr. McCullough suggests setting up a quiet and relaxing area for them to rest, following your vet’s medication guidance and attending follow-up appointments if recommended. 

Lepto vaccine for dogs

Talk to your veterinarian about the leptospirosis vaccine for dogs. According to Dr. McCullough, the initial vaccination involves two to three injections administered 2 to 4 weeks apart. There will also be an annual booster your pup will need. 

In addition to vaccination, there are other ways to help prevent leptospirosis in dogs. “Leptospirosis can be prevented through vaccination, rodent control, keeping your dog away from potentially contaminated water sources (like stagnant and slow-moving water) and preventing infected dogs from being in contact with other animals,” Dr. McCullough says. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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