Dog Health & SafetyDogs in General

Leptospirosis Symptoms in Dogs. What should I be looking out for?

Leptospirosis for stagnant water

Today, I am going to talk you through a canine condition commonly found in warm climates that have a high rainfall. Why is it common in these places? Simply because water is the most common source of infection. The reason for taking a closer look at the symptoms, is because in some dogs it can progress to a fatal condition. However, if you get an indication of symptoms early enough, and seek treatment from a vet, the chances your dog can recover well are much higher.


Symptoms of Leptospirosis in dogsWhat are the symptoms of Leptospirosis?

A factor that makes this a tricky thing to identify, is the variable nature of the symptoms. Sometimes a dog doesn’t show any symptoms, and an infected dog may appear outwardly healthy even though they are infected. These animals are classed as long-term carriers of the disease.

These are some typical symptoms, but this is a generalization, so they can be less severe and slower to develop or the opposite, in which case the condition can be very serious.


  • A high temperature – interestingly, this can lower again after a period of time, so it may not be a prolonged fever
  • An upset stomach with vomiting and diarrhea, and sometimes an obvious loss of appetite
  • Dog with jaundice

    Jaundice, which manifests itself as a yellowish tinge as a result of a negative impact on the liver. The first place you are likely to see this, is in the whites of your dog’s eyes.

  • Darker than normal urine, due to it being tinged with blood
  • An obvious dehydration and congestion in and around the mucous membranes
  • Tiredness, general lethargy and muscular pain
  • Kidney failure
  • Possible death of the dog

Some dogs that only get minor symptoms may slowly recover, but they may be susceptible to small recurrences of their symptoms. However, even dogs that eventually fully recover are likely to have some degree of permanent damage to their kidneys.

It’s also important to note that the disease bacteria may continue to pass out through their urine well after an apparent recovery, even for months. That means you must still take great care around their urine – both for yourselves and any other dogs. Whilst the main risk is from infected water, it is possible for Leptospirosis to be passed on through infected urine. It’s rare, but it can happen!


How do you know if your dog definitely has Leptospirosis?

You won’t know for sure, without a visit to your vet. As with any illness, there is an overlap of symptoms with other conditions, so it’s really impossible to tell from observation alone. Your vet will need to undertake diagnostic tests to determine if your dog does actually have this infection.


What is it exactly?

Leptospirosis magnified
200x magnified Leptospirosis (By bluuurgh (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
A bacterial infection, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s good because bacteria are far easier to treat than some other organisms. It’s bad because bacteria are very efficient at multiplying, so bacterial infections, if they take a hold, can become serious very quickly.

In a dog that has no or mild symptoms, it’s likely their own immune system is managing to control the infection. For other dogs, their immune system, on it’s own, might not be enough to keep the numbers of bacteria down.

This is one of the reasons why you might see a high temperature, that then dips again. The high temperature is in fact an immune response as the dog’s body tries to fight the initial infection, and if the body does manage to retain some degree of control over the infection, the temperature may then dip again.


How do dogs get it?

Can be transmitted through direct contact with infected urine or via contaminated water. The bacteria can travel through damaged skin, (like sores, cuts or scratches) but can also travel through the lining in the mouth, even if there is no damage to it.


Leptospirosis can be fatalIs it dangerous?

Yes, it can be. The disease can occasionally prove fatal to both dogs and humans. A dog that shows severe symptoms that develop and progress quickly, is more likely to lose their life from the disease.


Is Leptospirosis contagious?

Can be transmitted to humans and other dogs through contact with the urine of an infected dog. Long-term carriers (mentioned above) can pose a risk of passing the infection to their families or other dogs, unless strict hygiene is observed.

However, this can be difficult if you don’t know a dog has it! Your vet can advise on the necessary hygiene measures you need to take, at the time of diagnosis. And if they don’t, please ask, because infected urine can be a danger to people and other dogs.


Dog urine can spread LeptospirosisHow does it spread?

Once a dog has it, it can be spread through contact with their infected urine. It can be caught this way either by a human or another dog.


Is it treatable?

Yes it is treatable, and like any infection the longer it is left before being treated the more serious it will become, and the harder it will be to treat. One advantage of a bacterial infection, is that it can be treated with antibiotics. A virus cannot.


Treatment for Leptospirosis in dogsWhat are the likely treatments?

However, whilst antibiotics will attack the bacteria additional help will be needed for the damage to your dog’s organs. This may include using an electrolyte solution to help rehydrate your dog, and different medications to help with an upset stomach, pain, and to prevent further damage to any organs.

At this time, keeping the dog clean and comfortable is paramount, so your dog may be kept at your vets or animal hospital for professional nursing care.


Are there any long-term effects?

Yes. As stated above there is likely to be some degree of kidney damage, which will remain with your dog. The longer the infection is left untreated, the worse this is likely to be, and the liver may also be badly affected. However, livers are good at repairing and regenerating to full health, whilst kidneys are not.


Leptospirosis vaccination for dogsIs there a vaccination?

Yes, there are vaccines available, to cover the most common strains of the bacteria that cause the infection. Your vet will advise you on the best vaccination for your dog. It will also be necessary to have annual boosters too.


How can you stop your dog getting Leptospirosis?

If you think you live in an area where infected waters are common, you should get your dog vaccinated. Many dog show organizers insist all canine attendees are vaccinated, so it’s good practice if you are travelling with your dog.

The most common route of infection is through infected water. But the bacteria don’t live long in light or temperatures over 20 degrees. Therefore, they are rapidly destroyed in bright sunlight. The best chance of preventing an initial infection, is to keep your dog away from water that is stagnant and in the shade.

Leptospirosis for stagnant water


Have you or your dog ever experienced Leptospirosis?

This is all aimed at helping educate dog owners who may not be familiar with this infectious disease. If you have experienced it, please do leave a comment below to let us know what the outcome was for your dog.

Equally, if you are new to all of this, feel free to ask any questions as well. My belief is that you can never have too much information as far as your dog’s health and well being goes, so I hope you have got some value from this article.

4 thoughts on “Leptospirosis Symptoms in Dogs. What should I be looking out for?

  1. Hi Mara,

    Thanks for sharing this important information. Every dog owner needs to be aware and discuss it with the vet. It’s one of the few that is transmittable to humans as well. It is quite frightening and so easy to prevent. I have always had my babies vaccinated against this infection.

    Nice work getting the word out.


    1. Thanks Sophia – I do try and offer helpful advice here on my site, so I’m glad you felt this was a worthwhile article. You are right about it being preventable, so I hope it helps some dog owners understand a little more about the condition. Thanks again for sharing your views – I appreciate it. Mara

  2. Wow, I didn’t realise how much of a health risk common water can be for my dogs. Is there a specific test I can do to ensure the water that I’m giving them is safe?

    What about the expenses involved in getting the tests done? Is it a test that can be done during a regular checkup?

    It raises a lot of concerns for me

    1. Hi Ryan,

      I hope I haven’t frightened you too much! It’s not so much about drinking water around the home, but if you’re out and about, you should stick to sources of fresh, running water. I’ve not found a testing kit for public use, so I don’t think it’s a case you can do this. Leptospirosis is most common in tropical climates, and provided you keep your dogs from swimming in shady, stagnant water, you are minimizing the risk. Of course, if you don’t want to worry at all, speak to your vet about vaccination. They will know if you are frequenting high risk areas or not. The cost of diagnostic tests would have to be confirmed with individual vets, as it’s something only they can do. You may find this other article from the American Kennel Club useful. It does talk about some particular areas of outbreak in the USA. I hope that helps ease your concerns a little, Mara.

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