Is Your Dog at Risk of Leptospirosis?

If Leptospirosis is present where you live, then there is a high change your dog is at risk of contracting this deadly infection.

Find out how it is spread so that you are better able to protect them, and keep your family safe.

leptospirosis risks in dogs

I read all the information on leptospirosis and I was wondering if you know how it is contracted? Ingested? Airborne? Through the skin? - Jeanne

How dogs get leptospirosis is the bottom line.

What is Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is caused by an infection with the bacteria Leptospira. 

There are actually several different variations, which are also known as serovars, and the presence of these varies depending on where in the world you are, your geographical location. In fact there are over 250 different serovars of pathogenic Leptospira that have been identified!

Dogs are the primary host of the Leptospira bacteria, but many other mammals can be infected. It has been shown that leptospirosis can develop in over 150 different species and those are only the ones that have been reported. These include farm animals, wild animals, rodents, and also humans. This clearly has implications.

Transmissible to People

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease. This means that it can be transmitted from animals to people. If your dog has leptospirosis, then we need to be careful with how we are hospitalizing them, how we're treating them, and how we're managing them at home. 

It also gives an added impetus to protecting them from developing that infection in the first place. Preventing your dog from suffering from Leptospirosis will also help reduce the risk of you and your family from becoming infected.

Leptospirosis Spread

What happens when an animal becomes infected, is that the bacteria infects the kidneys. Once there, the Leptospira multiplies and starts to be shed in the urine.

It is this infected urine where the contamination of an environment comes from, and remember that over 150 different mammals can become infected. If Leptospirosis is in your part of the world then there is a good chance it of finding it in every kind of environment. 

Dogs are infected just by coming into contact with either the infected urine, or urine-contaminated soil, water, food, or bedding.

Not only can the Leptospira bacteria cross a dog’s mucous membranes, like their gums, the bacteria can also be transmitted directly across the skin if there are wounds or small abrasions present, which there are very likely to be in a dog's feet.

A dog literally only needs to walk across infected soil or a contaminated puddle to become infected.

The bacteria doesn't replicate outside the body, so it's just going sit there. It is not going to spread to areas where animals have not urinated. Despite this though, Leptospira bacteria can remain in an infectious state in the soil or in water for many, many months.

Location, Weather, and Environment

The length of time the bacteria can survive is again going to depend on the local environment and where you are in the world. This is because the bacteria can be killed by freezing or by exposure to UV. If you're in a very, very cold area and it’s winter, then the Leptospira is going to be completely killed and winter is not going to be a risk. It will also act as a check to stop the level of infection in the environment growing year-on-year.

If you live in a very sunny spot, then certainly in areas where the sun is actually shining down and the UV rays are on the soil, this is going to help with the breakdown and destruction of the bacteria. If there are shady patches, then infection could still be a risk, but if the sun is shining and the ground is baked dry, the risk is going to be low.

Is Your Dog at Risk of Leptospirosis

The risk of your dog contracting leptospirosis is also going to depend on their lifestyle and the local presence of leptospirosis.

It is a disease that is most common in:

  • Dogs that drink from rivers, lakes, and streams.

  • Rural dogs that are allowed to roam

  • Dogs that have access to sewage

  • Suburban or urban dogs with an infected local urban population of wildlife are also at risk. That would include rats, mice, foxes, and squirrels.

dogs are infected with Leptospirosis just by coming into contact with infected urine or contaminated soil, water, food or bedding

How to Prevent Leptospirosis

What can you do about trying to stop your dog from becoming infected if you are living in a high-risk area?

Avoid high-risk areas 

We want to avoid these high-risk areas if at all possible, but that is very hard because short of moving to a new area and likely a new country, that is not going to be too easy.

It could be though that there are some known local hotspots to avoid, or you could choose to take your dog to an area without lots of puddles and standing water.


Vaccination is the best option when it is felt that there is a risk of a dog catching leptospirosis. Like I say, we are protecting not just the dog, but we are also protecting ourselves from infection as well. 

Vaccination is very effective at preventing infection. Immunity lasts for at least 12 months. Unfortunately, it is not one of the vaccines that can be given every three years or so. It should be given every 12 months. As with all vaccinations, the risk of leptospirosis in your area and the vaccination options should be discussed with your vet.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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