Ross Valley Veterinary Hospital

190 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
San Anselmo, CA 94960


Leptospirosis FAQ

There has been a recent increase in leptospirosis cases in the Bay Area.  The local veterinary emergency hospital is treating as many at ten times the normal number of leptospirosis cases each week, and a record high percentage of these patients are not recovering.

So, how do you keep your dog safe from this potentially deadly disease?  Please read our frequently asked questions below.

Q: What is Leptospirosis?

A: Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is on the rise in the Bay Area after the recent storms. There are over 200 strains of Leptospirosis. Some are species-specific, which means they mostly or only affect one species, but others are species jumpers. Dogs and humans are both susceptible.

Q: How is it contracted and transmitted?

A: Leptospirosis bacteria are shed in urine, and need a moist environment to survive. When the urine of an infected animal comes in contact with a water source, the water source becomes contaminated and the bacteria can spread to new hosts.  The bacteria can also be transmitted by licking or consuming plants that have been recently urinated on by an infected animal.

Leptospirosis bacteria can enter the body through mucus membranes (such as the eyes, nose and gums) and open wounds.  It is most often contracted when a human or dog drinks from or swims in a contaminated water source. Even puddles and outdoor dog bowls can become contaminated if infected rats or raccoons have access. Sea lions are another major carrier, so the beach may also be contaminated.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Symptoms include: vomiting, refusal to eat, shaking, reluctance to move, severe muscle and joint pain, fever, increased thirst and urination, and stiffness. Long-term effects include kidney and liver failure.

Q: How do you treat it?

A: Strong antibiotics such as penicillin are needed over a long time frame to ensure the infection has truly passed and the dog can no longer infect others. Patients may also need IV fluids or dialysis to treat kidney failure. Liver failure is less common and more serious. Failure to treat or a delay in treatment may result in death.

Q: How do you prevent it?

A: Always make sure your pet has fresh, clean water to drink. Avoid letting your dog drink from or swim in an unknown water source or a water source frequented by wildlife.

There is also a vaccine against four of the worst and most common forms of Leptospirosis. The first vaccination is a series of two, which must be given within 3-4 weeks of each other, followed by a yearly booster. While there used to be a prejudice against the Leptospirosis vaccine due to common allergic reactions, today’s Leptospirosis vaccine is much safer and is far less likely to cause a reaction.

Please call us at (415) 453-7372 if you have any further questions, are unsure if your dog has had its leptospirosis vaccine, or if your dog is showing any symptoms of the disease.