190 – Leptospirosis symptoms, treatments and prevention

Veterinary Voice (3)

Dr. Marty Greer

Dr. Marty Greer

Leptospirosis symptoms, treatments and prevention

Dr. Marty Greer, DVM, JD joins us again for our monthly Veterinary Voice. Our topic this month is the potentially deadly zoonotic disease, leptospirosis.

Resurgent disease

Aka Lepto, this bacterial infection is found primarily in areas of standing water and within about 18 months of major flooding. Desert and dry regions see very little of the disease. Greer said the veterinary community is seeing a resurgence in this dangerous infection.

A spirochete bacteria, Lepto looks like a corkscrew under a microscope. The actual physical shape of the bug is instrumental in how it impacts the host. These little creatures burrow into tissue, primarily in the liver and kidney. They can frequently live *undetected* in the host for years. The germs are shed in the urine of affected animals.

Lepto bacteria are transmitted through mucus membranes. Livestock and wildlife are the primary points of exposure for our dogs. Pets who trot out to do their business and investigate overnight visitors in the yard are at risk just as much as hunting dogs.


This is a zoonotic disease (communicable to humans as well as animals) which may cause any and or all of the following symptoms in our pets:

  • Drink more,
  • urinate more,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • maybe even a cough….
  • High liver enzymes and high kidney values on same blood panel…
  • fever,
  • lethargic,
  • jaundice (yellow),
  • lower appetite,
  • stiff/painful…

“The problem is, these symptoms are common to other diseases,” Greer said. “The dogs can be asymptomatic to critically ill.”


Greer advocates for a three-year vaccine protocol for viral diseases like distemper and parvo. But she strongly encourages her clients to incorporate a one-year plan for the bacterial diseases such as leptospirosis and bordatella.

“We see (lepto) primarily in the spring and fall,” Greer said. “But you have to test specifically for it to know for sure what’s going on. The vaccines we have available today are safer and far more effective than they were 10-15 years ago,” making them far less likely to cause a vaccine reaction and more likely to prevent all of the strains of the disease.


Lepto can be diagnosed specifically only with a DNA test drawn from urine when the dog is acutely sick. This test seeks to identify the actual DNA of the bacteria. A blood test also can determine titers for lepto. What this titer seeks is to look for the actual disease instead of *immunity* to the disease through vaccination.


Greer said an ultrasound to determine kidney/liver involvement can be needed. And antibiotics, either doxycycline and/or amoxicillin, may be prescribed.

Since lepto can be asymptomatic and can spread quickly to remaining dogs (and children or adults) in a kennel/household, proper diagnosis, prevention or treatment are imperative.

Greer recommends this vaccination guideline (link below) to help determine what a dog may or may not need for the specific lifestyle it pursues.



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