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How to Keep Your Dog Safe From Leptospirosis in an Outbreak

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the Leptospira bacterium and transmissible through the urine of infected animals, including domestic pets and untamed animals.

In recent years, the incidence of this potentially fatal disease has increased, posing a hazard to both humans and animals.

In fact, there has been a significant increase in cases of leptospirosis in pets in New York City in recent months.

Dr. Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, provided insightful information on leptospirosis to help pet owners comprehend its dangers and how to keep themselves and their furry companions secure, and BestForPets (bestforpets.org) will convey that valuable knowledge to you in this article.

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Deborah R. Fletcher (DVM)


The information provided is current and up-to-date, in line with the latest research conducted in the field of veterinary medicine.

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1. What Is Leptospirosis?

Dog drinking from a puddle

Leptospirosis is a bacterial zoonotic disease caused by infection with the Leptospira genus of bacteria.

The bacteria primarily spreads through urine from infected animals such as rats, raccoons, and other wildlife and can survive in standing water or soil for extended periods.

It should be noted that Leptospira bacteria cannot survive in freezing temperatures.

Dogs may become infected with leptospirosis through various means, such as drinking or swimming in stagnant water, penetrating intact or damaged skin from contaminated soil, being bitten by or eating an infected animal, or ingesting food contaminated by infected urine.

Once infected, dogs may transmit the disease to humans through contact with urine on mucous membranes, wounds, cuts, or bites. Immunocompromised individuals are at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the disease.

Dr. Jose Arce, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, emphasizes that the potential transmission of leptospirosis to humans is of significant concern, with fatal cases having been reported.

However, most dogs who are up-to-date on their vaccinations are protected against the most common types of leptospirosis.

It is crucial for pet owners to understand the risk factors associated with leptospirosis and to take measures to protect their pets and themselves from this serious disease.

Regular veterinary check-ups and vaccinations can help prevent the spread of leptospirosis, and prompt treatment can increase the chances of a full recovery.

2. How to Prevent It

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent leptospirosis in dogs. Typically, veterinarians will initiate the vaccination series in puppies aged 9 weeks or older.

Once the initial series is completed, booster shots are administered either annually or every three years, depending on the prevalence of leptospirosis in the area. Leptospirosis outbreaks are more common in areas with large rat populations and regions that experience major flooding or hurricanes.

Legs walking in the flooding water

Dr. Jose Arce, the President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, notes that in areas like San Juan, Puerto Rico, with year-round rainfall and stagnant water, there is a higher risk of leptospirosis outbreaks. After Hurricane Maria, there was a significant increase in the number of leptospirosis cases in both humans and animals.

Pet owners in high-risk regions should ensure their pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations and keep them away from potentially contaminated water sources.

During leptospirosis outbreaks, it’s important to keep your dog away from dogs of uncertain vaccination status, including those in dog parks, unless you are aware of their vaccination status.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule and any additional precautions that may be necessary for your dog’s safety.

3. Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Young spaniel running through a muddy field

Symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs can vary from mild to severe and may include the following:

  1. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  2. Fever or shivering
  3. Muscle tenderness or reluctance to move
  4. Increased thirst and urination
  5. Vomiting
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Kidney failure
  9. Liver failure

It’s worth noting that some dogs may not exhibit any symptoms at all.

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to leptospirosis or is showing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent more serious and potentially fatal complications, such as kidney or liver failure, from developing.

Pet owners should be vigilant in monitoring their pets for any potential signs of leptospirosis, especially if they reside in at-risk areas.

4. How It's Treated

Canine leptospirosis is primarily treated with antibiotics, and hospitalization may be necessary depending on the severity of the case. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics are commonly used to treat symptoms and prevent complications.

To prevent the transmission of the disease, pet owners should ensure that their dogs do not defecate in public parks or near water sources, and they should prevent their dogs from urinating in public spaces.

If a dog urinates inside the home, it is important to promptly disinfect the area to prevent the bacteria from spreading to other dogs or family members.

Vaccination is the most effective method for preventing leptospirosis in dogs. In areas where leptospirosis is prevalent, Dr. Jose Arce, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, emphasizes the importance of vaccinating dogs.

By vaccinating their dogs, pet owners can help prevent the spread of leptospirosis and protect their beloved companions from its potentially fatal effects.

5. Vaccinations for Leptospirosis

The leptospirosis vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against the bacteria, which helps prevent infection.

Typically, the vaccine is administered in two injections, followed by annual or triennial booster shots, depending on the veterinarian’s recommendation.

It is crucial to ensure that your pet receives the recommended booster shots to maintain their immunity against leptospirosis.

The vaccine is available in various combinations, including a four-way vaccine that also provides protection against distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus.

Although the leptospirosis vaccine is highly effective, no vaccine is 100% foolproof, and pets may still contract the disease.

However, vaccination can help reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent complications such as kidney or liver failure.

6. High-Risk Areas for Leptospirosis

Person wear rubber boots,prevent infection of leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is more prevalent in certain areas, and pet owners should be aware of high-risk regions to keep their dogs safe. Areas with high rainfall and standing water, such as wetlands or swamps, are more likely to have a higher incidence of leptospirosis. Additionally, areas with large rat populations, such as urban areas or farms, are also at higher risk.

Pet owners in high-risk areas should work with their veterinarians to determine the most appropriate vaccination schedule and take additional preventative measures, such as using flea and tick preventative medication, to keep their dogs safe from leptospirosis and other diseases.

7. What to Do if Your Dog is Exposed to Leptospirosis

A dirty Golden-doodle dog

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to leptospirosis, it is imperative that you take swift action to prevent the disease from spreading and potentially causing severe health complications.

If your dog is subjected to leptospirosis, you should take the following measures:

1. Contact your veterinarian immediately: Immediately contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has been exposed to leptospirosis. They can perform a blood test to determine if your dog is infected and recommend a course of treatment.

2. Isolate your dog: To prevent the disease from spreading to other canines or family members, keep your dog isolated from other animals and in a distinct room or area.

3. Disinfect the area: If your dog has urinated or defecated inside the home, disinfect the area promptly to prevent the bacteria from spreading to other creatures or family members. Utilize a disinfectant solution suggested by your vet.

4. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations: Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

5. Monitor your dog’s health: It’s essential to monitor your dog’s health closely and report any changes in symptoms to your veterinarian. Symptoms of leptospirosis can vary from mild to severe and may include fever, muscle tenderness, and loss of appetite.

In conclusion, if your dog is exposed to leptospirosis, it’s crucial to take prompt action to prevent the disease from spreading and potentially causing serious health complications.

By working with your veterinarian and following their recommendations, pet owners can help ensure their furry friends receive the necessary treatment to recover from leptospirosis.

8. Risks of Not Treating Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a potentially life-threatening disease that can cause serious health complications if left untreated. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of leptospirosis, it’s essential to seek veterinary care immediately. Here are some of the risks of not treating leptospirosis:

Kidney and liver failure: Leptospirosis can cause damage to the kidneys and liver, potentially leading to kidney and liver failure. This can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Sepsis: Leptospirosis can lead to sepsis, a severe infection that can cause organ failure and potentially be fatal.

Bleeding disorders: Leptospirosis can cause bleeding disorders, leading to abnormal bleeding and bruising.

Respiratory distress: In severe cases, leptospirosis can cause respiratory distress, making it difficult for the dog to breathe.

Death: If left untreated, leptospirosis can be fatal.

In conclusion, ignoring leptospirosis treatment poses serious and even fatal hazards. Owners of pets can aid in their pets’ recovery from leptospirosis and avoid any complications by promptly seeking veterinary care and following the prescribed treatment plan.


Keeping your dog safe from leptospirosis during an outbreak requires awareness, preventative measures, and prompt action if exposure occurs.

By ensuring your dog is up-to-date on their vaccinations, avoiding potentially contaminated water sources, and monitoring your dog’s health closely, pet owners can help prevent the spread of the disease and protect their furry friends.

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to leptospirosis, seek veterinary care immediately to prevent serious health complications.

Remember, staying informed and taking proactive measures is the best way to keep your dog safe from leptospirosis during an outbreak.

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Dr. Barry Buttler

Dr. Barry Buttler, DVM, MS, DACVIM, is an experienced veterinarian who specializes in the care of small animals, specifically dogs. Dr. Barry K. Buttler is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and holds multiple certifications in small animal emergency medicine and geriatric pet health.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Barry Buttler


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