Pet Talk: Dogs playing near wildlife at risk of leptospirosis (column) |

Pet Talk: Dogs playing near wildlife at risk of leptospirosis (column)

Liz Foster, DVM
Pet Talk
Leptospirosis is a bacteria present in soil and streams commonly spread through wildlife urine. By eating an infected carcass or via a bite by an infected animal are common ways of contact.
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As a veterinarian in the Vail Valley, I understand how important it is to get outside with your pets — whether it’s the summer or the winter, it’s part of our lifestyle as pet owners in this beautiful place.

With an abundance of wildlife surrounding us, it is important to remember to protect your pet from diseases that they can catch from wildlife. One of the significant things that dogs can pick up is a bacteria called leptospirosis, and there are ways to prevent it.

Leptospirosis is a spiral shaped bacteria that is present in soil and streams. Just about every dog is at risk of being exposed to leptospirosis, regardless of lifestyle or where they live. It is commonly spread in wildlife urine — the way in which a dog comes in contact with this is via mucous membranes, a break in their skin (open cut or sore), by eating an infected carcass or via a bite by an infected animal.

Signs of leptospirosis are variable. Some dogs can pick it up and never show signs of being infected. Other times, a dog can have a mild and transient illness and recover spontaneously; and others develop severe, life-threatening illness. For those dogs that become ill, there are a wide variety of clinical signs — lethargy, fever, muscle tenderness, vomiting, diarrhea, not eating, jaundice and painful/inflamed eyes.

The scary part of a significant leptospirosis infection is that it can cause kidney failure with or without liver failure and possibly death.


Another scary thing about leptospirosis is that people can be infected — yes, you can be infected either from your dog or from the environment. It’s called a zoonotic disease which means that your pet can pass it to you and you can pass it to your pet if you become infected.

In the United States, most cases of human leptospirosis result from recreational activities involving water. Infection resulting from contact with an infected pet is much less common, but it is possible.


A yearly vaccination is the best way to prevent leptospirosis infection in our dogs. Contrary to some beliefs, these vaccines are no more likely to cause adverse reactions than are the other commonly administered vaccines. Other lifestyle things to consider when trying to lower your pet’s risk of exposure include not allowing them to drink or swim in standing water or streams and not allowing them to come in contact with wildlife (dead or alive).

Contact your veterinarian to chat about whether or not they recommend a leptospirosis vaccination for your dog. It’s a vet’s job to do everything possible to keep you and your pet healthy and happy, and we take pride in doing it.

Elizabeth Foster is an associate of Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center. You can reach Fitzpatrick at 970-328-7085.

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