Leptospirosis: Protect your Dog

We vaccinate or treat our dogs to protect them from the most dangerous diseases—rabies, heartworm, kennel cough, parvo virus, etc.

As another service to the community, Topanga’s local veterinarian, Dr. Holly Scoren brings our attention to another highly contagious disease and its remedy: Leptospirosis, caused by Leptospira bacteria is found in soil and water and can result in kidney and/or liver failure. It is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people.

Dogs are most commonly affected, whereas it is rare in cats. Common risk factors for Leptospirosis include exposure to or drinking from rivers, lakes, creeks, streams or even the ocean. Leptospirosis is spread through urine of infected wild animals such as rats, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, mice, deer and coyotes, which can get into the soil or water and can survive for weeks or months in the environment. The bacteria can enter through skin and mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth). Sea lions at our local beaches have contracted the disease. 

The signs of Leptospirosis may include fever, muscle tenderness, lethargy, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or jaundice.

Leptospirosis can be difficult to diagnose. The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 – 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more. It may be suspected based on the exposure history and signs shown by the dog, but many of these signs can also be seen with other diseases.  

In addition to a physical exam, certain lab tests such as blood tests, urine tests, x-rays and possibly an ultrasound are required for diagnosis. Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics and supportive care.  When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage.

A vaccine is available that can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Currently available vaccines effectively prevent Leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs.

Holly Scoren’s Animal Clinic of Topanga is located at 115 S. Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Topanga, CA 90290; (310) 455-1330.


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