Leptospirosis In Dogs: Symptoms & Treatments

Key takeaway

Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection in dogs that inhibits blood’s ability to clot. It can be easily spread through stagnant water or dirt contaminated with urine from wildlife and livestock. The leptospira bacteria enters dogs’ bodies through ingestion or by coming into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes.

If you own a dog, you probably view them as a member of your family. You want to give your dog the very best life possible, and that probably includes letting them enjoy nature away from your backyard or apartment from time to time. There is nothing quite like watching your dog run free in the woods or fields, but there are risks to take into account.

Even though you are probably familiar with potential animal attacks, or the occasional tick, you also need to think about the soil and water. When dogs are thirsty, they will drink water from just about anywhere. If they drink dirty water or come in contact with contaminated water, dogs can contract life-threatening infections. One example is leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis in dogs can be a significant issue. What is lepto in dogs, and what are a few leptospirosis symptoms in dogs you need to keep in mind? Learn more below, and do not hesitate to reach out to a veterinarian who can help you.

What Is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can impact humans and animals. It is caused by a bacteria that is a member of the genus called Leptospira. When a person or animal is infected with leptospirosis, it will target red blood cells.1

Leptospirosis damages the blood, making it nearly impossible for blood to clot normally. If blood is not able to clot, severe bleeding can result, and it can become life-threatening. The bacteria can easily spread throughout a dog’s body, reaching the liver, kidneys, and even reproductive organs to cause damage.2

Because leptospirosis is such a serious infection in dogs, it is critical to understand how dogs might contract this infection, the symptoms that it might cause, and how to treat leptospirosis in dogs.

How Do Dogs Get Leptospirosis?

The best way to deal with leptospirosis in dogs is to prevent dogs from contracting it in the first place. That means you need to understand how dogs can get leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis tends to thrive in areas that are warm and wet. This means that leptospirosis is more common late in the summer and early in the fall. If leptospirosis is present in a warm, wet environment, it can survive for weeks to months. If it rains, it makes it easier for leptospirosis to spread. That means that if you allow your dog to run outside in the rain, or if you go outside shortly after a rain shower, there might be a greater risk of your dog contracting leptospirosis.3

Even though it is true that leptospirosis can survive in a variety of environments, the most common way dogs can contract this infection is through drinking water contaminated with urine. In particular, if the water is stagnant or slow-moving, dogs have a greater chance of contracting this infection. Some of the most common locations where dogs might contract this infection are lakes, ponds, and puddles.3

Leptospirosis is most commonly spread through stagnant water contaminated with urine

It is also not unusual for dogs to get this infection if they come into contact with food, bedding, or soil that has been contaminated with urine. In particular, there are a few other animals that are known to spread this bacterial infection. Examples include sheep, cows, raccoons, and rats.3 If your dog comes into contact with any of these animals, it might be a good idea to reach out to a vet.

Coming into contact with this bacteria is not enough for your dog to contract this infection. The bacteria can enter the body after being ingested, and broken skin or mucous membranes are also particularly vulnerable portals of entry. This means the bacteria can enter your dog's body through the nose, eyes, or mouth.3 Once it gets into the body, it can spread to the bloodstream, where it can cause some real damage. That is why it is important to understand the most common leptospirosis symptoms in dogs.

Leptospira can enter the body through ingestion or broken skin and mucous membranes

Signs & Symptoms Of Leptospirosis In Dogs

What is lepto in dogs? There are several common symptoms that can develop stemming from this infection. Similar to other infections, not every dog is going to show all of the symptoms below. It depends on the timeline of the infection, the severity of the illness, and the overall health of your dog. In general, dogs will start to show signs and symptoms of leptospirosis approximately one week after contracting the bacteria.

Signs of leptospirosis in dogs

Some of the most common symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include:

  • Fever: Dogs with leptospirosis often develop a sudden fever.
  • Decreased Appetite: It is not unusual for dogs with this infection to suffer a sudden drop in appetite. They may take longer to finish their food, or they may not finish their food at all.
  • Fatigue: Dogs with leptospirosis often appear tired. They may also appear lethargic and weak. Your dog may have a difficult time taking the stairs, or he or she may have a difficult time jumping onto furniture.
  • GI Symptoms: GI symptoms are very common with leptospirosis as well. The most common examples include vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration is common with this infection. Your dog may go to the bathroom more often, and your dog may drink more water as a result of dehydration.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding is one of the most severe symptoms of leptospirosis. You may notice that your dog has bleeding under the skin, which can cause bruising. This can be called petechiae or ecchymosis, depending on the severity. Your dog may also have red eyes.
  • Jaundice: You may notice jaundice in your dog. The eyes may look yellow, or the skin may look yellow if you brush back some of the hair.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: If you feel the lymph nodes, they might be swollen.
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage: One of the most severe symptoms of leptospirosis dogs is pulmonary hemorrhage. This means that your dog may be bleeding into his or her lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe.3

Some of these symptoms can be particularly severe, which is why it is important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible.

Diagnosing Leptospirosis In Dogs

Because there are a lot of illnesses that can cause some of the symptoms above, it can be difficult to tell if your dog has leptospirosis or a different infection. That is why you need to reach out to a veterinarian who can take a complete history and perform a physical exam. You need to tell your veterinarian if your dog has spent time outside, particularly if your dog has been near stagnant water or livestock. If you use your dog for hunting or sports, this could increase his or her risk of developing this bacterial illness.2

After doing a comprehensive physical exam, your veterinarian may order additional testing. This could include an electrolyte panel, urine testing, and blood work. If your veterinarian still suspects leptospirosis, your vet may order a PCR test, which is designed to look for the DNA of Leptospira in your dog’s bloodstream, which would confirm the infection. Your veterinarian may also test for antibodies against the bacteria. Finally, your veterinarian might also order a chest x-ray to look for bleeding in your dog's lungs.3

Treating Leptospirosis In Dogs

The treatment of leptospirosis will depend on the severity of the illness. In mild cases, antibiotics, additional fluids, and anti-nausea drugs are all very common. The goal is to keep your dog hydrated while the immune system does its job. The veterinarian may also recommend the placement of a gastric tube to help your dog eat. Nutrition is important for the recovery process.

If the case is severe, particularly if your dog has severe bleeding, then the veterinarian may recommend hospitalization. All of the above treatments will be given, but your dog will be watched more closely. The veterinarian may also recommend a blood transfusion to replace the blood that may have been lost.2

Dog laying down near a pond

Leptospirosis In Dogs: FAQs

Some of the most common questions people ask about leptospirosis in dogs include:

How serious is leptospirosis in dogs?

Leptospirosis in dogs is a serious infection that must be treated appropriately; however, some cases are more serious than others. If your dog has a mild illness, he or she might be able to recover with outpatient treatment; however, if your dog has severe bleeding, hospitalization might be required to help them recover accordingly.

How does a dog catch leptospirosis?

There are several ways a dog may contract leptospirosis, but the most common is coming into contact with contaminated water. In particular, if your dog spends time in puddles or stagnant ponds, leptospirosis is a possibility. Coming into contact with contaminated urine can also lead to leptospirosis. Finally, coming into contact with wildlife, such as raccoons, cows, and sheep, can also increase your dog's chances of contracting this infection.

What dogs are at risk for leptospirosis?

There are several examples of dogs that are at a greater risk of contracting this bacterial illness. If your dog is used for hunting and sports, this infection is a significant possibility. If your dog lives in a wooded area or near a farm, leptospirosis is more common. Finally, if your dog has spent time in a kennel, your dog may be at a greater risk of contracting this illness.

Dog in the woods surrounded by trees

Final Notes

Ultimately, leptospirosis is always a serious bacterial infection. It can lead to serious symptoms, including a hemorrhage, if it is not treated quickly. With appropriate treatment, your dog has a great chance of making a full recovery; however, it is always better to diagnose this infection sooner rather than later.

That is why you should invest in professional online vet care. At Dutch, we provide high-quality, accessible online vet care, helping you connect with a large network of veterinary professionals. You can reach out to experienced licensed vets who can assist you in providing the best possible care to your dog. This includes learning more about puppy vaccines that might protect your furry friend against potential viral and bacterial infections, including leptospirosis.

If you suspect that your dog has contracted a bacterial or viral illness, it is crucial to get veterinary assistance as soon as possible. The faster your dog is diagnosed, the sooner they can get on the road to recovery. If you would like to speak to a veterinary professional, reach out to Dutch today.

References

  1. "Leptospirosis." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html.

  2. "Leptospirosis in Dogs: What It Is and What You Should Know." PetMD, 27 Jul. 2020, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_leptospirosis.

  3. "Canine leptospirosis." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/canine-leptospirosis