How to treat Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects both humans and animals. However, it's more likely seen in dogs.

Without immediate treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death in dogs.

Leptospirosis in dogs

Did you know leptospirosis is uncommon in areas where widespread vaccination of dogs is routine?

Vaccine against leptospirosis protects against the four most prevalent Serovars of Leptospiral. Although chances of getting this infectious disease are rare, it could still happen.

So, here is everything you’d need to know about Leptospirosis to treat or prevent it effectively.

How Do Dogs Get Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospirosis that is found in water and warm, wet soil.

Many strains of Leptospiral bacteria can cause disease. Moreover, it's a zoonotic disease that can easily spread from animals to humans.

Dogs often get infected with the disease when they come in contact with infected urine from other animals with the bacteria. 

In some cases, they can contract it through bites from wild animals or mating with other infected dogs.


Leptospiral can penetrate the soft lining of the nose, mouth, and eyelid, and can enter the body through open sores and scratches in the skin.

Animals that live close to human settlements such as raccoons, rodents, and skunks are responsible for the contamination of puddles and stagnant water.

They constantly shed the bacteria through their urine and contaminate lands where dogs often roam. 

Many different kinds of wild and domestic animals carry the bacterium. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Cattle
  • Pigs
  • Horses
  • Dogs
  • Rodents
  • Wild animals

The death in infected dogs caused by leptospirosis is about 10 to 30%.

When happens when your dog is infected?

The bacteria multiply in the bloodstream and then move into the tissues, often concentrating in the liver and kidney, causing extensive damage to these organs.

The dog's immune system produces an antibody response that quickly clears most of the Leptospiral from the body in about eight to ten days.

Most dogs usually recover from mild infections but even those that appear to be well-recovered, small numbers of bacteria survive in the body, especially in the kidney.

This low-grade ongoing infection leads to the long-term shedding of small numbers of bacteria in the urine.

In severe cases, the damage caused by the bacteria often leads to liver failure or kidney failure

Dogs that have recovered, yet still carry Leptospiral in their tissues are called Carriers.

Signs and symptoms of leptospirosis

The dogs infected with leptospirosis show the followings symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Reluctance to move,
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in the frequency or amount of urination
  • Spontaneous cough
  • Runny nose
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice
  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Painful inflammation within the eyes

The prolonged infection often shows signs of bleeding disorders that can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool, or saliva.

Nosebleeds and swollen legs and chests from fluid accumulation are other signs.

Dogs may occasionally develop severe lung disease and have difficulty breathing.

Diagnosing leptospirosis in Dogs

Your vet may suspect the disease based on the exposure history and signs shown by your dog, but only seeing the signs isn't enough.

In addition to a physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend several other tests such as blood tests, urine tests, radiographs (x-rays), and an ultrasound examination.

Routine blood tests such as CBC, biochemical profile, and a urinalysis may provide valuable clues for starters. Additional tests will still be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Among several conclusive tests for diagnosing leptospirosis, the two most common ones are the DNA-PCR test and the microscopic agglutination test (MAT).

The DNA-PCR test is a rapid test that detects the DNA of Leptospiral in blood or urine. Remember, the DNA-PCR test can only show conclusive results before the dog is administered any antibiotics.

On the other hand, the MAT test detects the presence of antibodies against Leptospiral in a dog's blood.

Your veterinarian will order a:

  • Chemical blood profile
  • Complete blood count
  • Urinalysis
  • Electrolyte panel
  • Fluorescent antibody urine test

Can Leptospirosis be treated?

Certainly, drugs and supportive care are very effective in treating leptospirosis. When treated early, the chances for recovery are promising.

The delayed prognosis often puts your dog is a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage.

There are two phases of antibiotic treatment.

  • The first phase clears the most serious or acute infection from the body.
  • The second phase clears the low-grade infection found in carrier dogs.

Antibiotics will be prescribed for a course of at least four weeks.

In addition to antibiotics, dogs with severe kidney or liver damage may require hospitalization for intravenous fluid treatment and other therapy.

Fluid therapy will be the primary treatment for leptospirosis to reverse any effects of dehydration. A blood transfusion may also be necessary if your dog has been severely hemorrhaging.

How to prevent leptospirosis

Consult with your vet to administer the Leptospirosis vaccine for your dog.

  • The four-Serovar vaccine is currently the only vaccine recommended by experts for the prevention of Leptospirosis. The currently available vaccines effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. However, annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs.
  • The lepto-vaccine for dogs protects from certain strains of leptospirosis, hence it's not 100% guaranteed effective in all cases.
  • Another way to prevent exposure is by reducing possible sources of the Leptospiral bacteria such as roaming outside without supervision, playing on stale water sources, or entering forests.


You and your family can prevent contracting leptospirosis by following the said measures.

  • Avoid direct contact with your dog’s urine. If your dog urinates inside the home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant and wear gloves to avoid any skin contact
  • Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where people or other animals will have access.
  • Wash or disinfect your hands after handling your pet.



Dogs that regularly wander outside the home or come in contact with wild animals are potentially at risk of contracting this disease. Once contracted, it takes about 4-12 days for the bacteria to incubate. Talk to your veterinarian in Urbandale to learn more about different ways of preventing Leptospirosis in Dogs.

Get in touch with Urban Pet Hospital & Resort, the best hospital in Des Moines!

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