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Lapping Lepto? Dog Owner–Be Vigilant

A Growing Concern

photo of boy walking his dog through the big puddle | Whitworth Animal ClinicLeptospirosis, a serious bacterial disease which can affect dogs, other animals, and humans, is on the rise. Leptospirosis is common where temperatures are mild and where there are rainy seasons. In the U.S., the disease is caused by one of eight strains of the bacteria of the leptospira genus.

The bacteria must have water to live; it can survive in damp soil, stagnant water or mud, especially in warm climates. The bad bacteria can typically be found in water where infected wildlife, e.g., raccoons, skunks, opossums, rats, deer urinate. Pets and livestock can also spread the disease through shared water sources.


Not every animal exposed to leptospira becomes violently ill; sometimes, it has no effect and other times only a mild effect. In rare cases where the disease becomes life-threatening, antibiotics and intervenous treatments are prescribed. In the acute stage, there can be damage to the kidneys and liver. The symptoms of the disease—vomiting, diarrhea, and sluggishness—are deceptive because they could indicate a variety of illnesses, so diagnosis can be tricky.

Prevention in Pets

Preventing the disease in domestic pets requires awareness and vigilance on the part of the pet owner. Keep your pet away from water that could possibly be infected:

  • Stagnant puddles or ponds
  • Flood water
  • Muddy dog parks
  • Communal bowls at the dog park
  • Backyard water bowl—clean it regularly; wildlife could be using it
  • Pet owners should be aware that the vaccine doesn’t protect against all variations of the bacteria.

Human Vulnerability

In humans, leptospirosis can be serious. Keeping this disease at bay is a public health issue because leptospirosis can be spread to humans through contact with an infected pet’s urine or bodily fluids. In parts of the world where flooding is common, humans can become infected by exposing an open wound to infected flood water.

Preventing Leptospirosis in Humans

Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to human are called zoonotic diseases. It’s uncommon for a human to contact a disease from a pet, but it can happen. To protect yourself and your family, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Avoid close contact with animal excretions
  • Wash your hands if you come into contact w/feces
  • Keep rodent population down
  • Don’t leave pet food outside which could attract infected wildlife
  • Have your vet examine and vaccinate your pet

Other Resources

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information on leptospirosis and guidelines for preventing occurrence of the disease in pets.

Ask Dr. Whitworth

Dr. Whitworth stays current on best practices for canine vaccinations. When it comes to leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases, it’s important to keep your pet’s shot record up-to-date because it can also protect you.

Schedule an appointment today to discuss concerns about your pet or to update immunizations.

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