Leptospirosis: A Cautionary Tale

The veterinarians at Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo recently dealt with a heartbreaking case of leptospirosis in a small dog. We would like to take this opportunity to educate you about this disease to prevent serious illness or the untimely death of your best friend.

Cause and Risk Factors of Leptospirosis

This disease affects many animals, although it is rare in cats and much more common in dogs. As a zoonotic disease, leptospirosis can be passed from animals to humans. The name for this disease comes from the genus leptospira, which is a complex grouping of related bacteria. Several different strains of leptospirosis currently exist. The leptospira bacteria have a high survival rate in areas that are warm or humid and can often be found in ponds and other bodies of standing water.

Transmission and Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Infected dogs shed the leptospirosis virus through urination, although the bacteria may also be present in other body fluids. Your dog may become infected with leptospirosis by exposure to the following:

  • Contaminated water
  • Urine of another infected dog that may be present on shared bedding or in the soil.
  • Bite wound inflicted by a dog who already has the disease.
  • Ingesting tissues from an infected animal.

After the leptospirosis virus gets into your dog's body, it spreads to many different tissues. The immune system may eliminate most of the bacteria, but some of it can hide in the kidneys. This causes your dog to shed the virus through urination for the next several months. Antibiotics are helpful at this point to completely eliminate the virus from your dog's body.

Symptoms of leptospirosis can range from mild to severe depending on the strain of the virus, your dog's age, and immunization status. Since severe cases can be fatal, it's important to know the symptoms of this disease. They include:

  • Decreased appetite.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Jaundice.
  • Fever.
  • Frequent urination .

Muscle or joint pain, which your dog may display as a reluctance to move


Treatment and Prevention

Diagnosing leptospirosis can be challenging. We will ask you about your dog's symptoms and take a blood and urine sample to locate the virus. Part of the challenge is that some of the symptoms of leptospirosis mimic other diseases. Once we have confirmed a diagnosis, we treat this condition with two different types of antibiotics.

Aggressive treatment is necessary once liver or kidney failure is apparent. This includes intravenous fluids and medication to reduce vomiting in addition to the antibiotics. Unfortunately, treatment at this stage may not be successful.

Because our clinic is located in an area where dogs are at risk of exposure to wild animals and contaminated water, we highly recommend routine vaccination for leptospirosis. We encourage you to speak to your dog's regular veterinarian at Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo about establishing a schedule for the leptospirosis vaccine.

After-Hours Emergencies

After Hours Veterinary Care
1014 Dale Street North
St. Paul, MN 55117
(Inside Como Park Animal Hospital just north of downtown St. Paul)
24-hour care for multiple species

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of MN
1163 Helmo Avenue N
Oakdale, MN 55128


Animal Emergency & Referral Center of MN
1542 7th St. W.
St. Paul, MN 55012
(located 2 blocks east of 35E)