Truth About Leptospirosis: Protecting Your Dog


Leptospirosis has gotten tons of press lately. Actually this bacterial infection is hardly new, and occurs around the globe.

One real concern is that this infection is zoonotic, which means people can get it too. Lots and lots of animals can carry the infection, which is spread mostly through urine. Among the critters carrying lepto are squirrels, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and famously city rats. Drinking contaminated water can cause an infection….which is exactly why leptospirosis is quite rare in people America, though common in many third world countries. In our country, people typically don’t drink from river water which may be contaminated….However, dogs might, and from puddles or licking at moist soil where an animal previously piddled.

Aside from licking up water infected with the bacteria, Leptospirosis can enter the body through mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth) or through an open wound. Animals who eat infected animals may also get sick – so if your pup catches a squirrel or rat – never mind that it’s gross, it’s another way to get the disease.

The good news is that dogs can be vaccinated for leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis isn’t considered a core vaccine, so much depends on lifestyle of the dog as well as geography to determine if the vaccine makes sense for your dog.  Geography because in states like North Dakota, lepto is rare. It is most common in Hawaii. Indeed, the Chicago area is considered a hot spot, and Illinois is a state where Leptospirosis is generally more common.

Potentially people or dogs can die of leptospirosis. First among the symptoms may be any combination of  lethargy, vomiting, abdominal pain, azotemia (unusual blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine levels in the blood), fever, diarrhea, discharge from eyes or conjunctivitis.

While a long list of wild animals spreads lepto, city rats are wonderful reservoirs for the infection. Those rats don’t get very sick at all, generally becoming efficient at spreading the infection. The more rats in an urban area, the more infection. And due to a decline in city spending on rat control (in Chicago and elsewhere), and favorable weather (this harsh winter could cut down on rat numbers), though a rainy spring would mean a potential increase of infections.

Regina Waldroup of Ch.5 (WMAQ-TV) reports with Dr. Natalie Marks of Blum Animal Hospital.