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Dr. Hilary Quinn: Leptospirosis a Growing Disease Concern for Dogs | Four-Legged Friends and More

Vaccinations in the pandemic was have been quite a hot topic. But in the veterinary world, discussing routine and preventive vaccinations has been our bread and butter for decades.

Most dog owners are familiar with the three core vaccines: the Distemper/Adenovirus/Parvovirus/Parainfluenza combo vaccine (often referred to simply as Distemper/Parvo); the Rabies vaccine; and the vaccine for Bordetella, or kennel cough.

But there is another vaccine that veterinarians are increasingly recommending as part of the core series: Leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis, often shortened to Lepto, is a potentially deadly bacterial disease that can cause liver and kidney failure. It is caused by a tiny bacterium that is passed in the urine of many mammals.

In our area, this disease is most often carried by wild animals, or potentially livestock. This disease can be spread by mice, rats, skunks, possums, raccoons, coyotes, and even farm animals.

After being passed in the urine, Lepto survives in moist or wet environments such as standing or stagnant water, or moist soil. This might include a water bowl you keep outside, a backyard pond, rain puddles, slow-moving creeks, or even wet grass or concrete.

It cannot survive once it is dried out, nor in sea water.

Leptospirosis in dogs may present with myriad symptoms, including fever, gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, jaundice, and changing in urination or defecation.

It can lead to organ failure and death in some cases, although most dogs will recover with appropriate (if sometimes intensive) medical care.

Lepto is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be spread to humans, making the recommendation for vaccination doubly important.

Historically, veterinarians recommended that any dog ​​with an “outdoorsy” lifestyle be vaccinated for Lepto. It was once considered a rural disease, and a result only hunting dogs or working dogs were vaccinated.

Perhaps due to urbanization, loss of wild habitat, or just plain opportunity, Leptospira prevalence is increasing across the country. We now know that even those teeny-tiny-teacup dogs, whose feet barely touch the ground, are at risk too. In fact, they may even be at greater risk.

Dr. Richard Ford, DVM, emeritus professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who serves on the vaccine task-force for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), states that the dogs currently most “at risk” for acquiring Leptospirosis are less than 15 pounds body weight, and often from the terrier group.

Ford says, “The challenge for veterinarians is determining which individual dogs should be vaccinated based on reasonable risk for exposure, which is especially important considering that risk factors appear to be changing and potentially putting a larger portion of pet dogs at risk. Infection risk appears to be significantly higher among small dogs (less than 15 kg) and terrier breeds, which strongly argues against the decision to avoid vaccination”.

The trouble is that small breed dogs are also the most likely to have vaccine reactions. To avoid this, I often recommend that my smaller patients receive the Lepto vaccine as a separate series, after they have completed the DAPP, Rabies, and Bordetella series.

I recommend that you make sure that your pup is up to date on her Lepto vaccination. For more information on Leptospirosis, you can visit the AAHA website at

They also have a nifty “vaccine calculator” on their website that you can visit to determine what other vaccines are needed for your pampered pooch: based-vaccine-calculator.

Dr. Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates Wilder Animal Hospital, and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two kids) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitty, two fish, and six chickens. Contact her at [email protected]


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