Preventing Leptospirosis


Our dogs are considered family members – of course, we want them to be healthy. Naturally, we also seek to have our human family members healthy as well.

Leptospirosis can be deadly to dogs, and it’s zoonotic – which means people can potentially become ill from an infected dog.

In dogs, prevalence of canine leptospirosis has increased in recent years. As many as 8.2 percent of dogs are shedding leptospires, some asymptomatically (so the dogs don’t appear ill but are still spreaders).

Leptospirosis is found in any body of fresh water, from very large to very small. Infected wildlife, an infected pet dog or an infected farm animal urinates into the water,  and then an unprotected dog innocently either takes a drink or even steps into the water and licks paws and can get sick as a result. So, if an infected rat urinates in a puddle and your dog steps into that puddle and licks at a paw, which is what dogs do, that dog may become very ill unless protected with a vaccine.

With so many infected rats in urban areas, lepto appears to be increasingly common, as demonstrated in this study from Chicago, IL. And it’s not only rats,  all sorts of other urban wildlife can also transmit leptospirosis, from opossums to raccoons to mice, and the list goes on. Many farm production animals, such as cattle and pigs, can also spread lepto. Dogs who aren’t vaccinated can contribute to pass on the bacterial infection as well. And that’s a real issue since dogs go where other dogs tend to go, such as dog parks and dog daycare facilities.

What’s more, an infected dog might have an accident indoors, and a toddler can meander through and put hands to mouth and become ill. Adults can get sick too if they don’t thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water after wiping up after the dog. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted to a person (or a dog) via a cut or abrasion.

Leptospires multiply in a host animal’s bloodstream and move on to the kidneys and other tissues to continue reproducing. While some lucky dogs remain asymptomatic (however, they do carry the infection and pass it on to others in the community), many dogs become ill; some get very sick and may even die.

For dogs demonstrating clinical signs of leptospirosis, they may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Acute renal failure
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Blood in urine is uncommon, but may occur
  • Respiratory distress

It was once thought that dogs who live in the countryside and go hiking with exposure to ponds are most susceptible. While certainly those dogs are susceptible, urban dogs are arguably most at risk – unless they are protected with a vaccine. Nobivac® Lepto4 is the only vaccine shown to be 100 percent effective against mortality and urinary shedding of the four most common serovars or strains of lepto.