Stockton Vet Hospital


News and advice from our experts

LEPTOSPIROSIS - what do you need to know?

Leptospirosis is a complicated disease that has increased in prevalence in our area.  While most people have probably never heard of Leptospirosis, here is an opportunity to read and learn more about this disease.  This edition of our blog will look at what it is, how it affects you and your pets, and how we at Stockton Veterinary Hospital can help you prevent it.  


Leptospirosis has been in the press and on social media recently as there has been an upswing in cases, both in suburban and rural areas, on the East Coast.  We recently saw a case at Stockton Veterinary Hospital, and wanted to let our community know the details of this often fatal disease.

Leptospirosis (often just called "Lepto") is a disease caused by a Leptospira Bacteria.  There are many different strains that can cause the disease.  This is what the Lepto bacteria looks like under a high-power microscope:


HOW DOES AN ANIMAL GET LEPTO?  This bacteria may be acquired though direct contact with an infected animal (a wild animal or a pet) or from contaminated soil, water or other items.  Urine from an infected animal contains a concentrated source of the Lepto bacteria.  If your dog drinks from a puddle or water source outside, or even ingests the bacteria from any source on the ground, it can penetrate the mucous membranes (inside the mouth or nose) and will the replicate in the animals circulation.  Once the Lepto bacteria is in the environment, it can persist for weeks to months in the soil.  Standing water and flooding commonly causes an increase in local infection rates.

In some cases, Lepto infections have occurred via direct penetration of the skin.


This is perhaps why we are seeing an increase of Lepto in our area - we have had a very wet summer.  We will also see an increase from dogs being brought up from the flooded areas of Texas and Florida.

This image depicts he "seroprevalence" of Leptospirosis (the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood) in the United States.

This image depicts he "seroprevalence" of Leptospirosis (the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood) in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LEPTO?  Symptoms can vary with the type of infection (different strains), the immune response of the patient, and the organs or body systems affected.  Symptoms can also be mild to severe, few or numerous.  They include:

  • Fever
  • Anorexia (not wanting to eat or a decreased appetite)
  • Muscle Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Cough
  • Depression/Lethargy
  • Drinking and urinating too much or in severe cases not at all
  • Weight Loss
  • Jaundice (aka Icterus) - yellow skin and eyes
  • Reluctance to move due to pain

How is Leptospirosis diagnosed?  If a veterinarian suspects that your dog has Lepto they will need to run some blood work.  This involves a CBC (Complete Blood Count - checking all the types of blood cells such as red blood cells and white blood cells), a Chemistry panel (to check organ function such as Liver and Kidneys), a Leptospirosis test and a Urinalysis (to check the urine).  Results from these tests will confirm if your dog has Lepto.

How is Leptospirosis treated?  Supportive care often involves hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy.  This helps counteract acute renal failure and vascular collapse.  Antibiotic therapy is a very large part of treatment as Leptospirosis is caused by a bacteria.

What is the prognosis if my dog has Leptospirosis?  The prognosis varies with the severity of infection, the organ systems affected and the immune system/health of the patient.  It also depends on the degree of renal damage that the bacteria has caused.  It is often a fatal disease.

How can I prevent Leptospirosis in my dog?  Because wild animals harbor and shed the Lepto bacteria and contaminate the environment, prevention of exposure is not a realistic expectation.  Routine vaccination for Lepto helps decrease the incidence and severity of canine Lepto.

Can a person get Leptospirosis?  Yes.  Humans, dogs, cattle, pigs, horses and more can contract Lepto.  Humans can get Lepto from environmental exposure or through contact with their pet's infected urine.  It is rarely transmitted from human to human.  Lepto is very rare in cats.

Infection appears to be uncommon for owners of dogs with Lepto that are undergoing treatment with appropriate antibiotics.  However, owners should consult their physician, especially if there is a history of being immunocompromised, or an owner develops fever, muscle aches or headaches.

The owner should avoid contact with the urine of an infected pet, use routine household disinfectants to clean areas of urine contamination, and wash their hands after handling the infected pet.

Is Leptospirosis found in this area?  Hunterdon County is on par with the National average for Lepto cases.  1 in 3 dogs showing clinical signs in this area of the North East will test positive for Lepto.


Can I get my dog vaccinated for Leptospirosis?  Yes.  The vaccine is available and can be administered to healthy dogs 6 weeks of age and older.  The initial vaccine protocol for healthy dogs is 2 doses administered 3-4 weeks apart. Annual revaccination with a single dose is recommended.


Useful Links:


Feel free to call Stockton Veterinary Hospital and discuss whether your dog should get a Leptospirosis vaccine.  We are here to help.


Charlotte Read-Kydd