Thursday, November 8, 2012

Leptospirosis: The "L" In DHLPP

So you take your dog to the vet at least every year. Many vets even vaccinate dogs on an annual basis. One of the most common vaccinations given to dogs is the "DHLPP vaccine. Do you know what DHLPP stands for? DHLPP is an abbreviation for Distemper, Hepatitis (CAV-2), Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus. You're probably somewhat familiar with most of these illnesses, but what about Leptospirosis? Do you know what it is? (It's pronounced "Lep-toe-spear-oh-sis")

Everyone probably has their own opinions of dog immunizations and appropriate vaccination schedules, including myself. We can save that discussion for a later date though. If I had to choose one of the five illnesses listed above to vaccinate my adult dog for, it would be against Leptospirosis. When I started to see more cases of the disease rise during my years working as a vet tech, I began to realize that Leptospirosis is something not to be messed with.

What Is Leptospirosis Anyways?

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Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection of spirochetes. There are many different strains that can affect dogs. Infected wild animals like mice, rats, deer, raccoons, etc. spread the bacteria through their urine. Dogs can then catch the infection by consuming contaminated water, through mucous membranes, exposure of the bacteria to open wounds or abrasions, or ingesting a contaminated animal.

Once in the bloodstream, Leptospirosis makes it's way through the body and reproduces in the dog's liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. Dogs may be able to fight off the bacteria on their own, although some bacteria may stay behind in the kidneys. Dogs can shed the bacteria for many months after an infection has initially been cleared.

How Leptospirosis affects a dog can vary depending on several factors. These factors include age, breed, sex, and immunity. The symptoms are different from case to case but can include fever, muscle pain, decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, frequent urination, or jaundice.

How Is Leptospirosis Diagnosed?


In order to diagnose Leptospirosis, veterinarians may first perform a series of standard tests. These tests might include bloodwork and x-rays. If bloodwork shows that the dog is in liver and/or kidney failure, then they may suspect Leptospirosis. The bacterial infection is usually not diagnosed on the first veterinary visit.

When Leptospirosis is a possible factor, the vet may want to run more tests to be sure. There is a titer test that can be sent out to labs. It tests for several different serovars of the bacteria. The only problem with this test is that it can take several days to get a result.

A PCR test (polymerase chain reaction) is a good alternative. Results can be achieved within hours and are likely to be more reliable.

Treatment of Leptospirosis In Dogs


Treatment depends on the dog and how ill they have become. Dogs who are very sick with the infection will need intensive supportive care. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics are typically indicated. I have helped nurse several dogs with Leptospirosis. Nursing care is crucial, so your dog may even need to stay a few nights at your veterinary clinic or emergency animal hospital.

How To Prevent Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis likes to grow in warmer and humid climates. It lurks mostly in stagnant water. Don't let your pup drink from puddles. Your dog may be more at risk depending on where you live and what kind of lifestyle they have. A hunting dog may have a higher chance of coming down with Leptospirosis than a mostly indoor pomeranian. However, the worst case of Leptospirosis I have ever seen was in a 3 pound chihuahua that supposedly "never went outside".

So that brings us back to the topic of vaccinating against this bacterial infection. I am not big on vaccinating my dog all the time, but this is one vaccine I would recommend to dog owners who live in high risk areas. Talk to your veterinarian about the prevalence of this bacteria in the region where you live. The DHLPP vaccination is usually given every 1 to 3 years to dogs and includes immunity against Leptospirosis. Also, there is an individual vaccine against Leptospirosis if you don't need the other four.

Warning: Leptospirosis Is Zoonotic!


Well, what does that mean? Zoonotic means that humans can catch the disease from animals and vice versa. Dogs with Leptospirosis need to be handled with that in mind. Gloves should be worn to prevent the spread of the bacteria, especially when handling the patient's urine. Proper handwashing should be practiced after handling Leptospirosis infected dogs as well.


  1. Thank you for the information. We get our vacs every year like clock-work and our worm and flea treatments throughout the year. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. From Remy's mom (another RVT)
    Good article! Parvo and distemper get a lot of attention, but Leptospirosis is a nasty disease too and far fewer people seem to know about it.

    I think Leptospirosis vaccines lost favor because of the prevalence of bad vaccine reactions. Because Leptospirosis is bacteria, the proteins that had to be injected were much larger than those in viral vaccines. Larger proteins mean greater reaction risk.

    But now they have developed new vaccine technology that allows for much smaller proteins to be used, thus a much safer vaccine.

    Also, pregnant women should be especially cautious, as Leptospirosis can cause miscarriage.

    1. Yea, when I first started we did not vaccinate small dogs with lepto. There was a kind of outbreak in Texas, so we started to do it more often. I was pregnant when I handled one dog with lepto. Of course my work made me go to the doctor. Unfortunately, pregnant women can't take doxycycline which is what they prescribe people who come into contact. They gave me cephalexin instead.

    2. I'm glad you were okay :)

  3. What a clear explanation of this disease and the risks. I didn't know what lepto was until my vet suggested we consider vaccinating Honey for it. We hike and play in a lot of wet areas and our vet thought Honey would be at a higher risk for it.

    She's had no ill effect from the vaccine. And I trust my vet to give good advice. She knows I'm cautious about overvaccinating so we had a good talk about lepto.

    1. Thank you, so glad to hear your Honey is protected. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Thanks for explaining that. It was good to know. I never ask as my vet is a very good friend! I should be more active in this!

  5. Thank you for passing on this important information! We had no idea until we read this. Thank you!
    We have an award for you so stop by to pick it up :) xx

  6. Scary! I always get that shot, but I never knew why. Now I know. Yikes. I like that shot a lot better now!

    Love and licks,


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