Act quickly if you suspect your dog might have Lepto

Ask the Vet

Q: I was at the vet’s office last month with my Lab for her annual check-up, and he was talking about a vaccination for Lepto. I’ve never heard of Lepto before. Can you tell me more? Does Betsy (my Lab) need it? E.R., Farragut

A: Leptospirosis, or “Lepto” for short, is a bacteria that can affect most animals, wild and domestic. The bacteria is spread in the urine of infected animals. Dogs can contract the disease by coming into contact with infected urine in standing water, streams, lakes or recently contaminated soil. The bacteria can enter the body through the mouth, nose, eyes or a small cut in the skin or paw pad.

In rural areas, Leptospira can be spread by wildlife, such as deer, opossums and skunks. In urban areas, rats are the primary carriers, with notable outbreaks occurring in Chicago and New York City. All dogs have the potential for exposure, unless he/she is the rare dog that lives inside only and uses a litterbox.

Dogs that contract Lepto typically develop a high fever. They become weak and dehydrated, and often have vomiting and/or diarrhea. Dogs often are jaundiced; the yellow color is visible on non-haired skin, gums and/or the whites of the eyes. In most cases, acute kidney failure develops, and some dogs also develop liver failure. Blood and urine tests are required for diagnosis. Although we have effective antibiotics, treatment can be lengthy and expensive if the kidneys are severely affected. Thus, early detection, diagnosis and treatment is important.

There has been an increase in cases across the country the last 10-to-15 years, so many veterinarians are talking to clients about the vaccines. The AVMA recently came out with the recommendation that vaccine should be used for all dogs.

With increased incidence, vaccination technology for Leptospirosis has also improved; it’s a better vaccine with fewer side effects. Current vaccines include protection for the four most common subtypes.

Unfortunately, there are more than 400 subtypes, so complete protection is not possible. Please have a conversation with your veterinarian regarding Betsy’s medical history, lifestyle, exposure and any past vaccine reactions.

If you have a question about your pet, e-mail Dr. Myers at