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Leptospirosis: Are Owners at Risk?

George E. Moore, DVM, PhD, Purdue University

Michael R. Lappin, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Colorado State University

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There are multiple Leptospira species that can infect dogs, cats, or humans, and these bacteria have worldwide distribution.

In General

  • Prevalence rates vary by region and species, and multiple different wildlife reservoirs exist.
  • Organisms are commonly shed in urine; infection is often initiated after ingestion of contaminated water. 
    • Alternatively, Leptospira spp infections can occur via direct penetration of intact skin. 
  • Clinical manifestations vary and depend on the infecting strain and mammalian species infected. 
    • Acute inappetence, vomiting, and renal and hepatic inflammation are common in dogs.
    • Clinical illness is less frequently reported in cats. 
  • Humans can develop leptospirosis. In one study, it was estimated that approximately 10% of infected humans were infected from contact with pets.1

Client Communication 

  • Infection appears to be uncommon for owners of dogs with leptospirosis that are undergoing treatment with appropriate antibiotics. 
    • Still, owners should consult their physician, particularly if a family member is immunocompromised or develops fever, muscle aches, or headaches. 
  • The owner should avoid contact with the urine of the infected pet, use routine household disinfectants to clean areas of urine contamination, and wash hands after handling the infected pet.2 
  • Infected dogs should urinate in an area that is not close to bodies of water or frequented by family members until antibiotic treatment is completed. 
  • Repeat infection with Leptospira spp can occur.
    • If the source of the primary infection is known, it should be avoided.  
  • Dogs vaccinated against the 4 most common Leptospira spp serovars are likely to shed fewer organisms if exposed.3


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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