L is for Leptospirosis

L is for Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is spread through the urine of infected animals. Many animals can carry leptospirosis and not be effected by the disease themselves. They are considered carriers. It is most commonly spread via rodents, deer, and other wild life. Although it can be spread by domesticated animals as well. As of January 2013, leptospirosis is a national reportable disease, so if you or your pet develop leptospirosis, it must be reported to your state. Currently, there is an estimated 100-200 cases per year in the United States, with 50% of them being in Hawaii.

Lepto warning in Hawaii (http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/2647894)

Leptospirosis warning in Hawaii (http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/2647894)

People and animals generally contract it via drinking, swimming in, coming in contact with infected water or soil sources, or contaminated urine or other bodily fluids (except saliva) coming in contact open wounds or mucous membranes (think dog shaking off after swimming and the water gets in your eyes or mouth). Illness can develop anywhere from 2 days to 4 weeks after exposure.


I was tested and treated for leptospirosis during veterinary school when I became ill 2 days after handling a dog and its urine that had the highest titer for leptospirosis that the school had ever seen. Luckily, my titers were negative. Unfortunately, we never found out what I had!


Symptoms can range from flu-like symptoms (headache, muscle aches, etc.) in the first phase of sickness to liver and/or kidney failure to miscarriages or abortions, and death (1-5% in humans) in the second phase of disease. Since the range of symptoms is so broad, it can be difficult to reach the diagnosis quickly. Diagnosis is generally performed using blood tests that check leptospirosis titers. These blood tests are generally done as a “paired titer,” which means blood is checked when a patient is first ill (within the first 7 days) and then another sample 2-4 weeks later during the convalescent phase. An infected patient can shed leptospirosis for up to 3 months if there is inadequate or no treatment at all.

Currently, there are only vaccinations against 4 serovars (types) of Leptospirosis for cattle and dogs. Despite the fact that the vaccines provide good protection to prevent serious disease from these serovars, protection is not 100% due to the fact that there are over 200 serovars of Leptospirosis. Vaccination tends to decrease the severity of disease, although does not prevent shedding of the organism. Reactions to the vaccination can occur, usually hives, swelling, and occasionally life-threatening reactions. In the past, the leptospirosis vaccine has caused more reactions than other vaccines in dogs, although with the improvement of technology, the reactions have decreased. Please speak with your veterinarian if you are concerned about either leptospirosis or the vaccination itself. Personally, I have seen many animals with the disease, and many have not survived. I have seen a number of vaccine reactions, some severe, but none have died.

Blessing of Drake the rat (Photo credit Melissa McGinnis http://seekeroffun.wordpress.com)

Blessing of Drake the rat (Photo credit Melissa McGinnis http://seekeroffun.wordpress.com)

Remember, not all rodents are bad, you just need to be careful with those wild ones! You can check out the story of some great rats on my friend Melissa’s blog, Seeker of Fun!


13 thoughts on “L is for Leptospirosis

    • Lethargy is often noticed, but many people don’t recognize lethargy for what it is. They think the animal is sad or depressed (which they may be, we don’t know as they cannot tell us) or that they are “just slowing down” due to age or something else. Extreme lethargy is often noted – the dog that goes from a crazy dog to a lump of a dog overnight – and even then may take 2-3 days for someone to call the veterinary office. Remember that just because you are not in a hot spot, doesn’t mean you don’t have it, so find out if vaccination is recommended in your area!


  1. Great post! I’m a veterinary technician and I think way too many pet owners are unaware of the dangers of lepto. I really like your blog and am excited to have found one by a veterinarian. Your theme is such a good idea-I think many people will be educated on things they weren’t aware of thanks to your posts!


    • Thanks for being a technician! I couldn’t do the work I do without the help of techs! I hope this blog theme, and my blog in general does provide information for people to help make this world a better place 🙂


    • Oh, lepto suspects, after the Rottie incident in school, I am always a little nervous when one comes in that it is high risk. I am happy that we are finally getting people to vaccinate around here. I have seen too many animals die from it. I was also able to diagnose it on “House” before they did! (I miss that show) I hope you get some traffic with the rat story. If you don’t mind, I may share your latest story in the future. I am not sure when, but I think the world needs to know. Remember, you are NEVER alone! I love you!!


    • Oh, Iowa, you still have some. Pigs are one of the carriers, they actually have a couple strains that they are the main culprits. Depending on your location in Iowa, you may also get runoff from WI and MN, especially in flood season, that could be an issue. Stay safe and keep your pups healthy! Florida has had some nasty Leptospirosis outbreaks this year, not cool at all!


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