What you should know about Leptospirosis

08.21.14 | WAIF

Consider getting your dogs vaccinated annually for Leptospirosis.

In May of this year, WAIF became aware of two cases of Leptospirosis (called “lepto” for short). This can be cause for concern as this is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can cause liver and kidney failure and can be fatal for dogs. However, a vaccine is available that can greatly reduce the risk of contracting lepto and most veterinarians will provide an annual vaccination.

How is lepto spread?

Given all the walking trails and the beautiful beaches that the island provides, lepto can be spread through urine of infected animals (including but not limited to dogs, rodents, wildlife, and horses) which can get into the soil and water. Lepto can survive for weeks or months. The bacteria can enter the skin especially if the skin is broken (cuts or scratches) and through mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection and can be passed to humans. Dog to dog transmission is rare but there is a risk.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Clinical signs are varied and generalized. Sometimes pets don’t show symptoms but when they do, they show up in dogs:

-Refusal to eat
-Severe weakness, lethargy, depression
-Stiffness or severe muscle pain

Typically, younger animals are much more affected than older animals.

If you think your pet may have Leptospirosis, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can perform tests to determine whether or not your pet has the disease and conduct recommendations for treatment.


Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If an animal is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and any organ damage may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required.

The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more.


Keep rodents away. Rodents can carry and spread the bacteria that causes the disease.

Get your pet vaccinated against leptospirosis. The vaccine does not provide 100% protection. This is because there are many strains (types) of leptospires (the bacteria that causes Leptospirosis), and the vaccine does not provide immunity against all strains. However,iIt is important to get your pet vaccinated again even if it gets leptospirosis because it can still get infected with a different strain of leptospires.

Pet owners should also take steps to prevent themselves and others from becoming infected with the disease due to an infected pet. The primary mode of transmission of leptospirosis from pets to humans is through direct or indirect contact with contaminated animal tissues, organs, or urine.

In some instances, shedding of leptospires in the urine may persist for as long as 3 months after infection as a result of inadequate or lack of treatment. Always contact your veterinarian and your physician if you have concerns about a possible exposure to an infected animal.

Given that we can expect a few more warm days this summer and lepto thrives in warm, wet environments, contact your vet to make sure your dog has up-to-date vaccinations.

Source: CDC


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