All You Need to Know About Leptospirosis!

You know the adage “knowledge is power”? In lieu of the recent Leptospirosis outbreak in Nova Scotia, it’s advised to arm yourself with as much information as possible to help protect yourself and your dog.

What is Leptospirosis?
Lepto is a bacterial disease of dogs and other mammals that primarily affects the liver and kidneys. This organism thrives in water (puddles etc.). There are many species of Lepto, many of which affect dogs. Some species that affect dogs do not cause any symptoms or illness at all. I am discussing dogs only because there is no evidence that Lepto causes disease in Cats.

How are dogs infected?
Rats and other rodents mainly carry the Lepto bacteria, but almost ANY mammal, including people, can also carry it. An animal that is either entirely infected or even just a carrier of the disease can transmit the bacteria.

Ingestion of infected urine or rodent-contaminated garbage is the most important means of transmission.

Some forms of the bacteria CAN penetrate the damaged or thin skin. For example, dogs swimming in contaminated water, they can become infected through their skin. The incubation period from infection to clinical signs is usually 4 – 12 days.

What are the signs of Lepto?
As stated above many Lepto infections go undetected. Other cases can be life-threatening. There are three primary forms of the disease:

1) Hemorrhagic (bleeding) – High fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, multiple small haemorrhages occur in the mouth and on the whites of the eyes, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting. This form is often fatal.

2) Jaundice (liver) – Begins much like the hemorrhagic form with many of the same clinical signs. However, there is yellowing of the mouth and whites of the eyes. In severe cases, the skin will turn yellow as well.

3) Renal (kidney) – This form causes kidney failure. Very lethargic, loss of appetite (weight), vomiting, horrible breath, tongue ulcers, diarrhea, excessive drinking/urinating, blood in urine, abdominal pain, a fever that can come and go. Dogs that survive this form may be left with chronic kidney disease.

How is Lepto diagnosed?
Because clinical signs can mimic other diseases, a definitive diagnosis can be tricky. Taking blood samples DURING infection and again during the RECOVERY period that shows an increase in antibodies to Leptospira is supportive of the diagnosis.

How is it treated?
Antibiotics (often long-term) and intensive in-hospital veterinary care.

How is it prevented?
Leptospirosis Vaccination.


Avoiding contact between bare skin and the urine of an infected dog, wear rubber gloves when cleaning up dirty areas in the home (bleach solution will disinfect contaminated areas).

Stay safe my friends!

Written by Mountain Road Animal Hospital