By Nicole Abrego

The San Diego area has been experiencing an outbreak of a harmful disease called Leptospirosis in recent weeks. This disease, commonly referred to as Lepto, is usually carried by rats and other rodents that are common in Southern California. Because of this, dogs can be at risk of contracting this potentially deadly disease if they come into contact with an infected animal or the urine of an infected animal. Here’s what you need to know about Leptospirosis and how you can protect your pet (and YOURSELF) from this disease.

Featured Quote:

But our bigger concern is that it's a zoonotic disease, so humans can also pick this up. So the problem is that quite often someone doesn't know that their dog has lepto and then they've been exposed from their dog. So we do recommend the vaccine for dogs.

Video Transcript:

Hey everybody, Dr. Michele Drake here and I'm here to talk to you today mostly about dogs with leptospirosis. We've had an outbreak of leptospirosis in San Diego. That's a bacterial disease that's transmitted mostly by the urine from rats, but other wildlife can also transmit it. And the way your dog will pick it up is from walking through the rat urine, which with a high moisture content, the rat urine will stay moist for a long time.

We all have rats here in San Diego. It's a great place to be a rat. So the rats are causing this outbreak and other wildlife too. So any kind of stream or any place where there's water, but it can be as simple as the dew in your grass. If your dog walks through that, licks their paws, gets it in a cut or scrape on their body. Then they will be infected with the leptospirosis. And within about three to five days, they can show flu-like symptoms. They're just not feeling well, they're not eating, and it can lead to kidney and liver failure very quickly. These dogs get really sick and they can die pretty quickly, but it's very treatable. So if you get in here quickly after that, we can treat it.

But our bigger concern is that it's a zoonotic disease, so humans can also pick this up. So the problem is that quite often someone doesn't know that their dog has lepto and then they've been exposed from their dog. So we do recommend the vaccine for dogs. It's a series of two the first year, and then after that, it's annual. It's a safe vaccine and it's a very preventable disease. So we do recommend that all dogs be vaccinated for it. So next time you're in, let's get that brought up to speed too.

What is Leptospirosis (Lepto)? How Can My Dog Get Infected?

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria. Lepto is usually transmitted through standing water or soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Dogs who are exposed to or drink from bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, and rivers are especially at risk for contracting this potentially deadly disease. If they come into contact with the urine or water containing the urine of an infected animal, a dog can be at risk of being infected with Leptospirosis.

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lepto rat

What Are the Signs That My Dog May Have Leptospirosis?

The signs of Lepto infection can range from little to no symptoms to severe symptoms and even death in some cases. The most common signs include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme thirst
  • Eye inflammation
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nosebleeds
  • Vomiting
  • Blood-tinged vomit, stool, urine or saliva
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and mucous membranes)

If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. While there are treatments for Lepto available, the pet will need medical attention from a veterinarian as soon as possible for the best chance of treating the infection effectively. If Lepto is left untreated, the pet’s liver and kidneys could become greatly affected and could result in kidney failure and even death.

Can Lepto Be Transmitted to Humans?

The short (and scary) answer is yes. Lepto is a zoonotic disease, meaning that this disease can be transmitted from animals to humans, making the recent outbreak of this disease significantly more alarming. Lepto, in most cases, can cause flu-like symptoms in humans but can lead to kidney or liver failure if left untreated.

If your dog has been diagnosed with Lepto, be sure to administer all medications as directed by your veterinarian. Avoid contact with your dog’s urine and in cases where you have to clean up your dog’s urine around the household, wear gloves and clean the area as soon as possible. While outside, try to have your dog urinate away from standing water and areas where dogs and people gather frequently. And most importantly, wash your hands and clean household surfaces frequently.

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dog playing in water

How Can I Protect My Dog From Leptospirosis?

Here at The Drake Center, we offer the Leptospirosis Vaccine to help keep your dog immune to the disease and prevent the spread of bacteria. Having your dog receive the Lepto Vaccine is highly encouraged, especially if your dog frequents bodies of water and spends most of their time outdoors.

With the cases of Leptospirosis rising in the San Diego area, some pet boarding facilities are requiring dogs to have a Lepto Vaccine before visiting their facility. So be sure to keep this in mind if you’re planning on having your pet boarded at a local boarding facility in the near future. Prevention is the best defense for protecting your dog (and yourself) from Leptospirosis!

If you have any questions about your pet’s care or need to schedule an appointment, contact us here.

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.


  • leptospirosis
  • Dog Vaccination