Vet Blog

Look Out for Leptospirosis—Is Your Dog Protected?

November 13, 2022

We are fortunate to live in an outdoor utopia-Conroe, Texas.

Our dense forests and serene sandy shores offer a beautiful backdrop for your daily walk with your dog. However, did you know that your dog could contract a potentially fatal disease by taking an innocent drink from a puddle? Leptospirosis is a life-threatening bacterial infection that dogs commonly contract by swimming in or drinking from contaminated bodies of water. Learn to prevent your dog from contracting leptospirosis by reading our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team's important information and safety tips.

What is Leptospirosis in Dogs?

Infected wildlife-including rats, mice, raccoons, possums, and deer-in the Conroe area spread leptospirosis through their urine. Pets and wildlife contract Leptospira bacteria through oral-nasal contact with contaminated urine, soil, or water. As suburban areas encroach on natural habitats, infected wild animals are more likely to contaminate environments that pets frequent. Dogs often contract leptospirosis by swimming in or drinking from contaminated bodies of water.

Can Leptospirosis be Transmitted to People?

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease (i.e., the infection can spread between animals and humans). However, your risk of contracting leptospirosis from your dog is low because most human leptospirosis cases are linked to recreational water activities. While your infection risk is low, if your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, protect yourself and your family by taking the following precautions:

  • Avoid contact with your dog's urine.
  • Wash your hands after handling your dog.
  • Administer your dog's full antibiotic course.
  • Do not allow your dog to urinate in areas accessible to people or pets.

How Does Leptospirosis Affect a Dog's Body?

The impact leptospirosis has on your dog's vital organs depends on their immune system's ability to eliminate the bacteria. Some dogs recover completely without treatment, while others become persistent carriers, and shed the bacteria through their urine. If your dog's immune system is weakened, the bacteria multiply, spread, and can cause organ damage, especially to the kidneys, liver, and spleen. Leptospira bacteria that settle in the liver and kidneys can cause organ failure, which can be fatal. Young dogs whose immune system is not fully developed have the highest risk for severe complications.

Which Dogs Are at the Highest Risk of Contracting Leptospirosis?

Virtually all dogs who spend time outside are at risk of contracting leptospirosis. Your dog's infection risk increases if they do the following:

  • Swim and drink from natural water sources
  • Roam across rural land
  • Frequently come in contact with wild animals, farm animals, or rodents

What Are Leptospirosis Signs in Dogs?

Leptospirosis signs can vary, and some dogs show no infection signs. Keep in mind that dogs who do not show illness signs can still spread the disease through their infected urine. Leptospirosis signs typically occur 5 to 14 days after exposure and may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Inappetence
  • Depression
  • Acute renal failure
  • Jaundice, resulting from liver failure
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How is Leptospirosis Diagnosed in Dogs?

If your dog shows leptospirosis signs, your veterinarian should examine them. To diagnose this infectious disease, your veterinarian may perform the following diagnostics:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • X-ray or ultrasound
  • Urinalysis

How is Leptospirosis Treated in Dogs?

Leptospirosis is responsive to antibiotics-typically a minimum three-week course-and complete recovery is possible. However, dogs who have kidney and liver disease may need supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids. Leptospirosis can be fatal if the infection causes significant organ damage, and dogs who survive the acute phase may be left with chronic kidney or liver disease.

Can Dogs Be Vaccinated Against Leptospirosis?

The leptospirosis vaccine is available for dogs, and veterinarians recommend a dog's inoculation based on their lifestyle and exposure risk. Any dog who spends time outside in the Conroe, Texas, area will benefit from an annual leptospirosis vaccine. You can also prevent your dog from contracting the leptospirosis infection by:

  • Keeping your dog leashed, and preventing their interaction with wildlife
  • Preventing your dog from swimming in or drinking from standing water sources, including those in urban areas
  • Bringing bottled water and a bowl on outings, and frequently offering your dog a drink

If you and your dog enjoy spending time in the great Texas outdoors, ensure your furry friend is protected from leptospirosis, a serious-but preventable-disease. Contact our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team with any leptospirosis questions, or to schedule your dog's vaccination.