What You Need To Know About Leptospirosis

Posted In: Canine Health & Wellness

Recently an eight-year-old Black Russian Terrier named Nico came to AMCMA in pretty rough shape. Nico hadn’t had much of an appetite for a few days, and he was dehydrated. But, the most striking thing was his jaundice. His eyes and skin were very yellow.

After a thorough examination and discussion with Nico’s parents, Dr. Trickel determined that Nico had Leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The Leptospira bacteria is found worldwide in the soil and water. It tends to be more common in warmer climates with high rainfall, but as you can see, it can be found in other climates too.


Predicted probability of a positive microscopic agglutination test (MAT) result for canine leptospirosis in the continental USA. Predicted probabilities range from 0.023 to 0.371, indicating that approximately 1/3 dogs tested is expected to be positive for leptospirosis. Scale is green to red where green indicates lower probability and red indicates higher probability. Source:  The Veterinary Journal Volume 222, April 2017, Pages 29-35


Dogs can be infected with leptospirosis several ways

  • Coming in contact with contaminated water, soil, food, or urine of an infected animal
  • Eating infected tissues
  • Through breeding, though this is rare

Dogs who swim or drink from lakes, rivers, or streams or who have exposure to rodents, other dogs, wild animals, or farm animals are at greater risk of coming in contact with the Leptospira bacteria.

While signs of leptospirosis and the severity varies in dogs, it can be life threatening. Some of the more common signs include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes blood-tinged
  • Nosebleeds
  • Accumulation of fluids in the legs, chest, or abdomen

Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure, and it could lead to severe lung disease. It is important to note that leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted to people and other pets.

In Nico’s case, his history and his symptoms made it clear to Dr. Trickel that he was infected with the Leptospira bacteria. Nico stayed at AMCMA for three days so he could receive antibiotics and fluids and so he could be monitored by Dr. Trickel and the team. He was able to go home on the fourth day, and we are happy to report, he is doing wonderful!

At AMCMA, we recommend reducing your dog’s exposure to the bacteria if possible and following the guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association regarding the leptospirosis vaccination:

  • For puppies, the initial vaccine is administered at 12 weeks old and repeated two to four weeks later.
  • For puppies over four months old or adults receiving the leptospirosis vaccine for the first time, two doses two to four weeks apart are recommended.
  • Annual revaccination is recommended for dogs at sustained risk of exposure to the leptospirosis disease-causing organism.

Nico and Dr. Trickel during his final booster visit for the year. 

The Animal Medical Center of Mid-America has veterinarians at three locations that can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or click here to request an appointment online.