Canine Heartworm Disease

Gunbil German shepherd puppy in motion

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete. Several species of spirochete may cause the disease in dogs and are transmitted by wild and domestic animals through urine, infecting water sources and soil. The bacteria can survive in the environment for up to 6 months, infecting dogs and other wild mammals.

The bacteria infects animals through ingestion or through a break in the skin. Dogs are commonly infected when they swim in standing water such as ponds or reservoirs. Once infected, dogs may shed the bacteria and pose a health risk to humans and other animals. Although most infections are mild, in more severe cases, the bacteria may damage the kidneys and liver. Even after symptoms disappear, dogs may shed the bacteria in their urine for up to a year.

Clinical Signs

Symptoms of leptospirosis appear four to twelve days after infection. Signs include fever (which may subside after a few days), loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, depression, muscle pain, diarrhea, and blood in the urine. In more severe cases, dogs may become jaundiced (appearing yellow around the ears and eyes), and may bleed spontaneously due to clotting problems.


Pets exhibiting clinical signs of the disease, with a history of playing in water or parks, may be suspect for leptospirosis. Veterinarians obtain blood samples for laboratory evaluation and may run additional tests on the liver and kidney. Urine and blood can also be specially stained with fluorescent antibodies to detect the bacteria.


Gunbil German shepherd puppy in motion

Dogs showing severe clinical signs may be hospitalized for treatment. In the hospital, these pets may receive intravenous fluids and antibiotics, as well as other medications to control diarrhea and vomiting.

Once stabilized, infected dogs may continue to receive antibiotics to control the infection at home. Dogs with kidney damage may require a special diet over the long-term.

Many dogs receive a vaccine for leptospirosis in their annual boosters. The efficacy of the vaccine is debated, however, primarily because there are so many varieties of the bacteria and the length of time over which the vaccine is effective is limited.

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