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Leptospirosis (Lepto)

Dr. Rochelle Campbell

     The last time you were at the veterinary clinic with your dog, you may have been asked if you wanted your dog to receive the vaccine that protects against leptospirosis.  Leptospirosis is an infection caused by a bacteria (Leptospira spp.) and is shed in the urine of infected animals.  The main source of infection for dogs is contact with an infected environment, namely one that contains stagnant or slow-moving warm water and has a rodent or other wildlife population.  Here in Florida, our warm climate, year-round humidity/high moisture and large numbers of rivers/lakes make our state a great breeding ground for this bacterial organism.  It is especially important to note that humans are also susceptible to leptospirosis, making prevention of this infection in the family dog all the more critical. 

     The bacteria first enters the body by penetrating the skin or mucous membranes.  Rapid spread to the bloodstream, then to all parts of the body occurs next.  The kidneys and the liver are the organs most heavily affected.  Therefore, signs of liver and kidney disease are commonly seen.  Many different types of clinical signs can be present, including fever, weakness, icterus (yellowing of skin), vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, anorexia,and even death in severely affected patients. 

     Your veterinarian may suspect leptospirosis if your dog presents with acute illness and does not have a history of vaccination against this organism.  A basic bloodwork panel will typically show elevated liver and kidney enzymes.  The veterinarian may also want to check a urinalysis for further signs of kidney damage.  More specific bloodwork, such as Leptospirosis titers, may be requested by your veterinarian if your dog's basic bloodwork and lack of vaccination against Leptospira support a preliminary diagnosis. 

     Treatment for leptospirosis includes hospitalization and supportive care, along with antibiotics.  Once your dog is able to leave the veterinary clinic, oral antibiotics will be continued for at least 2-6 more weeks.  The best recommendation, however, is prevention by vaccinating your dog against this potentially deadly bacterial infection.