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What All Dog Owners Need to Know About Leptospirosis

Bay Area puppy parents haven’t had to worry much about leptospirosis until recently. Now that cases of this bacterial infection have been increasing, pet hospitals in San Jose have begun recommending leptospirosis vaccination. Talk to your veterinarian to find out if your dog should receive the vaccines. It’s also important to know about the risks of leptospirosis, and how to recognize the signs and symptoms. dog - leptospirosis

Causes and Risk Factors

Leptospirosis is caused by a spirochete, which is a type of bacteria that can cause illness in people, dogs, and horses. As a zoonotic disease, it can be transmitted from pets to people. The bacteria are found in marshy and muddy areas. Spirochetes prefer stagnant water, and the risk increases if any sort of wildlife is in the area. But they can also penetrate through roughened or abraded skin from the dirt or grass. Your dog may be more likely to be exposed to this infection if he or she:

  • Spends time in the woods or even in the backyard
  • Drinks from water sources outside
  • Goes camping or hiking with you
  • Lives on or near a farm

Signs and Symptoms

If your dog exhibits any of the signs of leptospirosis, it’s imperative to get to the pet clinic right away. If it isn’t treated promptly, this infection can cause irreversible organ damage. It may also be fatal. Leptospirosis can cause a wide range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Joint pain and sore muscles (inactivity)
  • Jaundice
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Appetite loss
  • Weakness
  • Difficult or rapid breathing
  • Runny nose

An abrupt increase in thirst and urination could indicate kidney failure. If this isn’t treated, your dog’s kidneys may completely and irreversibly shut down.


Your veterinarian can use a urinalysis, blood test, and titer test to diagnose leptospirosis. Antibiotics can clear up the infection. Your dog may need to take the medicine for several weeks. If the infection has already gotten severe, your dog might require hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids.


Previously, vets hesitated to recommend leptospirosis vaccines for dogs that were not at a high risk because of the risk of side effects. Now, newer vaccines are available that are much safer. Two doses of the vaccine will be administered three to four weeks apart, and your dog will need yearly booster shots. It is capable of protecting your dog from four of the five strains of bacteria that cause the infection.

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