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September 17, 2010 > Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospirosis in Dogs

Jenny Anderson took good care of her dog Muffy and always listened to the advice of her veterinarian. She gave Muffy good food, had her routinely vaccinated, and gave her monthly flea control as recommended.

Thinking that Muffy didn't really go outside, she opted to decline the Leptospira vaccine. A few months later, Muffy picked up leptospirosis on a visit to a local park resulting in intensive care and hospitalization. Thankfully, her veterinarian was available to help Muffy fight the illness and make a full recovery.

Unfortunately, our canine friends are afflicted by many common and preventable diseases such as Leptospirosis. This is one of many diseases dogs need to be vaccinated against to protect their health and safety. Other diseases for which dogs should receive vaccination include distemper, parvovirus, rabies, and kennel cough. Pet owners may recall the "L" behind the DHP, which stands for Leptospira.

Leptospirosis, or Lepto as it's often called, is a zoonotic disease -a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. It is spread by a spirochete (spiral shaped) bacteria in the urine of wildlife, rodents, and pets. Presently, there are over 200 different strains of the leptospira organism. Of these different strains, eight are of importance for dogs and cats.

A dog will often ingest the bacterial organism through contaminated water or soil. Lepto then will enter the mucous membranes or through cuts in the skin. Symptoms of Leptospirosis are similar to other diseases. Initial symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting, and muscle or joint pain. Advanced symptoms include fever, diarrhea, excessive thirst, bloody urine, jaundice, and excessive bleeding due to low platelet counts. Leptospiroris causes potentially fatal liver and/or kidney disease.

Vaccines are available from your veterinarian to protect against Leptospirosis. Many pet owners have heard about the allergic reactions to Lepto vaccine that a few pets experienced when the vaccine was first introduced. Many breeders have warned their pet owners to "not get that Lepto shot."

In the past Lepto vaccinations were created from a whole bacterial organism. Because the whole bacteria increased the dog's immune response, the probability of vaccine reactions was higher. Fortunately, newer vaccines have been developed that reduce reactions because they only use a subunit of the bacteria.

A study reviewing vaccine reactions in more than one million vaccinated dogs found that reactions occur about 13 times for every 10,000 vaccines given. More importantly, the lepto vaccine was no more likely to cause a reaction than any other vaccine.

Globally, leptospirosis is the most prevalent zoonotic disease. Flood and hurricanes are instrumental in spreading this disease. Frequently, re-homing pets after major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, results in spreading this disease to new areas.

To minimize exposure, Veterinarians recommend removing pests from your property and draining any standing water. Discuss the benefits and risks of vaccinating your pet for leptospirosis with your veterinarian. Regular preventive care will help improve your pet's health and your pet will live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Veterinary Medicine has changed dramatically within the last twenty years, and especially the last few years. Pets are living longer than ever thanks to new treatment techniques, better medications, good nutrition and improved diagnostics.

As caretakers, we owe it to our pets to make sure they are well cared for and properly maintained - it's a great responsibility. For all that our pets teach us, for all the love and joy they bring to our lives, they deserve good care - and they rely on us to give it. The love and loyalty from your four-legged companion will be your biggest reward.

Dr Raj Salwan is a second generation Veterinarian and has been around veterinary medicine for over 23 years. His interests include Internal Medicine, Surgery, Emergency/Acute care, and general small animal practice. He currently works at American Animal Care in Fremont and can be reached via email at or

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