Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can affect both animals AND humans. It is spread through the urine of affected animals – often wildlife or livestock in the area, including rats, raccoons, skunks, cattle, and more. It is caused by a bacteria (a type called a “spirochete”) that sets up house in the liver and kidneys, and it is usually transmitted to the rest of the world through urine.

When an infected animal urinates, it contaminates the surrounding environment, and the leptospira are washed into standing water by rain. Dogs can become infected by drinking from puddles or coming into contact with contaminated water through an open cut or mucous membrane such as the nose and mouth. Lepto can also be spread through a bite wound, eating infected materials, or even sniffing the urine. While dogs that go hunting with their owners or spend a lot of time playing or hiking outside are at a higher risk, any dog, even the little ones who never leave their yards, can be exposed.

Once in the body, the spirochete travels through the bloodstream and settles in the kidneys, the liver, or both and reproduces. It damages the surrounding tissue, makes its way into the urine, and starts the cycle all over again. Not surprisingly, the body’s immune system doesn’t like that happening, but signs of leptospirosis are generally pretty vague. Fevers without an obvious cause, increased lethargy or reluctance to move, vomiting and diarrhea and lack of appetite could all be signs that should be taken seriously.

How do we prevent this from happening?

At Woodland Veterinary Hospital, our doctors will often recommend a Leptospirosis vaccine for dogs that may be at risk depending on their location and activities. Boehringer Ingelheim, who makes the Lepto vaccine we use, actually has a handy risk-assessment tool on their website that can also help you make an informed decision:


In addition, owners can also try to avoid puddles and standing water, but sometimes that can be tricky (especially with pets that love water!) Certainly, avoid letting your dog drink from stagnant, warm puddles. Try to have fresh water on hand for your pet to drink at all times. If you have further questions, give us a call at 530-666-2461 and we’ll be happy to help you out!

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