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P.A.W.S. Pet Hospital

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Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, is making a re-emergence.It is considered a zooinotic disease meaning it can pass from animals to humans. It is a bacterial disease that damages the liver and kidneys of dogs, sometimes resulting in renal failure and death. It is a disease entity that the veterinary community had thought we had almost eradicated (especially in the north), but are finding that is re-emerging in places we wouldn’t have normally expected.  Surveys have been started in most all of the 48 contiguous states, with only 3 having been completed.The data is showing some interesting and disturbing findings:

  • Dogs in suburban and urban areas, not just those in rural environments, have considerable risk of lepto exposure.This is being supported by epidemiological indicators telling us that leptospirosis is changing.

  • These suburban/urban dogs frequently present with nonspecific clinical signs that, in this area, can easily be confused with clinical presentations for Lyme and Anaplasma (tick borne bacterial diseases.

  • It is no longer being thought of as a “large breed/hunting dog” disease.Small dogs are appearing to be affected in just as high of numbers.This may relate to the increased number and access to dog parks that have become very popular.  These park environments often take on a landscape shared with wildlife and rodents. It may also be stemming from our infringement on wildlife and their adapting to our presence, living in closer proximity with us.

  • There is a potential change in the types (or servoars) of the leptospire bacteria that are resulting in disease, correlating with the epidemiological change being seen as well.


Leptospires live in fluids from infected animals, including urine, saliva, blood and milk. Commonly infected animals that can live with the organism, and therefore serve as reservoirs, are raccoons, squirrels, opossums, rats, mice and other wildlife.  So when my dogs have brought me squirrels, raccoons, and most recently tangled with a skunk, I am glad that they are protected by vaccination.

The disease is transmitted by direct contact with the fluids or with an infected animal. It is also transmitted by indirect contact such as vegetation, food and water, soil and bedding materials used by area wildlife.  Leptospires enter the body through mucous membranes or through breaks in the skin. The disease may be carried for years in animals without any apparent symptoms of the disease.  We must remember that in the environment we share with all animals, not just our pets, there is some risk for our exposure as well.

Any age, breed or sex of dog is susceptible to leptospirosis, although in general, young and older animals are more severely affected than mid aged adults.  Leptospirosis can cause irreversible kidney damage, liver damage, uveitis (inflammation of the inner part of the eye), and damage to other organs.

Vaccination can serve to protect our pets, though is no guarantee that they still couldn’t get sick.  Lepto is not viewed as a “core” vaccination, but rather a “life-style” vaccination.  Please talk with your P.A.W.S. Pet Hospital staff about if vaccinating is right for your pet and family, and any other questions you may have.