What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here’s Everything You Should Know

What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here’s Everything You Should Know

Alpha Paw Sale

May 13, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian with a passion for providing reliable veterinary insight & expert advice to help pet parents better care for their pups.


  • Leptospirosis in dogs is an infectious disease that is caused by a bacteria that can be found in standing water.
  • Dogs most commonly become infected with leptospirosis when they drink from infected water sources.
  • The most common leptospirosis symptoms in dogs include fever, decreased appetite, and lethargy.
  • Many cases of leptospirosis can be prevented with regular vaccination with the leptospirosis vaccine.

What is leptospirosis in dogs?

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that dogs can develop caused by leptospirosis bacteria which can be present in soil and water especially in areas with high wildlife concentrations. Leptospirosis is a spirochete bacteria. Often, a dog will become infected with leptospirosis after they have been swimming or drinking from a standing water source.

How common is leptospirosis in dogs?

Leptospirosis is not an uncommon disease. As a veterinarian, I diagnose a few cases of leptospirosis every year. It occurs in many locations within the United States but seems to be most common in places that have warm climates and a lot of rainfall.

Can humans get leptospirosis from dogs?

Yes, humans can get leptospirosis from dogs. Lepto is a zoonotic disease meaning that it can be passed from dogs to people. If your dog has been diagnosed with lepto, I recommend consulting with your doctor. If you are caring for a dog that has been diagnosed with lepto, your veterinarian will instruct you on the proper protocols to ensure that you stay safe. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends the following steps to keep yourself safe:

  • Do not touch your dog’s urine
  • If your dog pees inside, wear gloves and use a household disinfectant to clean
  • Wash your hands frequently after touching your animal

How do dogs get infected with leptospirosis?

Dogs become infected with lepto if they come into contact with the lepto bacteria. It is typically carried in wildlife urine, so if wildlife urinates in the area, your pet is at risk for becoming infected. Leptospirosis bacteria is especially common in ponds, puddles, lakes, streams, and other areas of standing water. If your dog drinks from these water sources containing leptospirosis, your dog could become infected. The bacteria can spread to your dog through contact with a cut or scrape or contact with your dog’s mouth, eyes, or nose. In addition, your dog could become infected if your dog gets bit by an infected animal or eats an infected animal.

What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here's Everything You Should Know

Leptospirosis Symptoms in Dogs

Leptospirosis in dogs symptoms can range from mild weight loss and lethargy to severe renal failure. Merck Animal Health reported that the most common symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include:

  • Fever
  • Decreased energy
  • Losing weight
  • Decreased appetite
  • Kidney failure
  • Pain in the belly
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drinking more water
  • Increased urination

What tests can be used to diagnose leptospirosis in dogs?

If your pet is exhibiting symptoms consistent with leptospirosis, I recommend visiting your veterinarian. If your pet has symptoms of leptospirosis, your veterinarian will likely recommend blood work including a CBC, chemistry panel, and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian may also wish to perform x-rays or an ultrasound. These tests will help rule out other common causes of the symptoms your pet is experiencing. Unfortunately, these tests will not be able to definitively diagnose leptospirosis. More advanced testing will be necessary to diagnose lepto.

According to VCA specialty hospital, the most common tests used to diagnose lepto in dogs include the DNR-PCR test and the microscopic agglutination test (MAT). The PCR test looks for the DNA of the leptospirosis bacteria in a blood or urine sample. The MAT looks for leptospirosis antibodies in your dog. Both tests can be helpful for diagnosing leptospirosis in dogs.

Treatment of Leptospirosis in Dogs

The treatment for leptospirosis includes antibiotic therapy. The most common antibiotic used to treat lepto in dogs is doxycycline. Your veterinarian will recommend 2 to 3 weeks of treatment with oral doxycycline. If your dog is extremely sick with lepto, they may need to be hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluid therapy. Since lepto can cause kidney failure, often the treatment for this disease is targeted at fluid therapy and supportive care. After your pet gets home, you will want to make sure they have a comfortable recovery area. If your dog is feeling under the weather, consider checking out this machine washable Cozy Calming Pet Bed.

Can a dog survive leptospirosis?

Yes, dogs can survive leptospirosis. If you catch leptospirosis early and your veterinarian quickly starts your pet on antibiotics, the prognosis is generally good. If your dog has severe kidney failure from leptospirosis, the prognosis is not as good as there may be irreversible kidney damage.

What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here's Everything You Should Know

How do you prevent leptospirosis in dogs?

Many cases of leptospirosis can be prevented by vaccination with the leptospirosis vaccine. Vaccination does not always prevent leptospirosis, but it does reduce your dog’s risk of developing lepto. Also, if your dog gets vaccinated with lepto and becomes infected with lepto, they may have a milder form of the disease. The AKC also suggests another way to prevent leptospirosis in dogs is to avoid standing water sources like ponds, puddles, and creeks. If there are any drainage issues in your yard, you should try and have these corrected.

Is the lepto vaccine necessary for dogs?

Similar to the kennel cough vaccine, the lepto vaccine is a lifestyle vaccine meaning that it is only given to dogs that have a risk of developing lepto. If your dog does not have any access to ponds or other standing water, then they may be at a low risk for developing leptospirosis. It is best to discuss with your veterinarian the pros and cons of vaccinating your dog for lepto.

Conclusions

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that dogs can develop when exposed to a contaminated water source. This disease can cause vague symptoms which may make it challenging to diagnose. Your veterinarian will run some basic blood tests and x-rays, and if they are suspicious of lepto, they may recommend more advanced testing to rule out lepto. Treatment of lepto consists of antibiotic therapy and supportive care. Leptospirosis in dogs can be prevented with avoidance of contaminated water sources and regular vaccination. If you are concerned that your dog has leptospirosis, I recommend contacting your veterinarian right away.

Alpha Paw Sale
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Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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