What Is Lepto, And How Can It Infect My Dog Through Water Or Soil?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, leptospirosis is a disease caused by Leptospira bacteria which can be found worldwide in soil and water. The flu-like disease can be potentially fatal if not treated, and because it’s a zoonotic disease has the potential to be passed from pets to humans and even other animals to humans.

The disease, also known as “lepto,” primarily affects dogs and can be contracted through direct contact with another infected animal or, most commonly, through contact with anything that has been contaminated by the urine of an infected animal.

Standing water is a potential breeding ground for lepto, and most infections occur when dogs go swimming in or drink infected water—but grass, dirt, or even objects can carry the bacteria. Wild animals and rodents or unvaccinated pets carrying lepto may excrete the bacteria into soil or spread it by drinking from standing water sources.

Almost every dog is at risk of being exposed to leptospirosis, whether they live in the country, city or suburbs. Drinking from rivers, lakes, or streams, and coming into contact with other infected animals at dog parks, for example, all increase exposure risks. Lepto can be fatal if not treated-—three dogs in New Jersey died recently from the disease.


The symptoms of lepto vary based on the strain of the bacteria and how each dog’s immune system reacts to the infection. Some infected dogs show no signs of illness, some appear mildly ill but recover, and others develop a severe, life-threatening illness. Lepto can cause kidney failure and/or liver failure.

According to the AVMA, symptoms might include: fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, or painful inflammation within the eyes. Some dogs develop lung disease and have difficulty breathing. Leptospirosis can also cause bleeding disorders, which may lead to blood in their vomit, urine, feces, or saliva Fluid accumulation may cause swollen legs or excess fluid in the chest or abdomen.

A veterinarian can examine your pet for signs of lepto, and may do a blood test to check for antibodies to the bacteria. Lepto is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care.

Other dogs in your home may also need to be treated, even if they don’t appear ill yet. And since leptospirosis is zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people, an infected pet dog does present a risk of infection for your family. Rubber gloves should be worn when handling the urine of an ill pet.

In the U.S., most cases of human leptospirosis are from recreational activities involving water, but it is possible to contract lepto from a pet. Humans typically develop flu-like symptoms and can be at risk for liver or kidney disease.


The best course of action to keep your pets and your family safe is to make sure your pet is vaccinated against lepto. If you’re not sure, ask your vet. If your dog is up to date on the DHLPP vaccine, for example, the ‘L’ signifies leptospirosis. Talk with your vet about which vaccine option is best suited to your pet’s specific needs and risks based on where he walks, plays or swims, including where you travel.

The veterinarians at PetWellClinic® will be happy to help you make sure your pet is safe from lepto, and other common diseases. By operating as a walk-in-clinic for non-surgical care, PetWellClinic® is able to offer substantially discounted prices for vaccinations, wellness exams, safe heartworm, flea, and tick preventative products and medications for chronic conditions, as well as treatment of minor conditions.

PetWellClinic® is open during convenient evening and weekend hours, with no appointment necessary, at three locations: In Farragut at 10549 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37922; near West Hills at 7329 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919; and in Alcoa at 228 S. Calderwood Street, Alcoa, TN 37701.

Learn more about how PetWellClinic® can exceed your expectations for affordable, top quality pet care by visiting our website at www.petwellclinic.com.


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