Home Pet Care Info Leptospirosis, a potentially fatal dog disease


Leptospirosis, a potentially fatal dog disease




Leptospirosis, a potentially fatal dog disease found on the South Coast of NSW has also now been found near Canberra.

A very serious infection of dogs, Leptospirosis, has been spreading across NSW with detections in the mid-north coast, northern beaches, central Sydney and now south coast areas. We recommend that all dogs visiting these areas be vaccinated against this frequently fatal disease. As of June 29, 2022, a fatal case has occurred in a dog near Canberra.

In addition to the information below, Canberra and region pet owners need to know that a 2 year old otherwise heathy dog living south of Queanbeyan contracted Leptospirosis and was euthanased on 28 June because of kidney failure. The dog was referred by the local vet to the Animal Referral Hospital in Pialligo, where specialists were unable to save it. Today a positive PCR test identified the DNA of Leptospira interogans in the blood.

We now recommend that local dogs should be vaccinated against this commonly fatal disease – please read below for vaccination recommendations.

Leptospirosis, a severe bacterial infection of dogs and other animals including humans, has recently been diagnosed in two dogs living in the St George’s Basin area of the NSW South Coast.

Unfortunately, they were unable to be saved, as although treatment is available, it often comes too late to reverse the severe damage the disease causes. Leptospirosis infection in dogs is becoming more frequent in NSW and this is the first occurrence of the disease on the South Coast.

This bacterial disease affects the liver and kidneys, and sometimes the respiratory system and brain, and common signs may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, jaundice, inappetence, changed frequency of urination and nosebleeds. The bacteria is most commonly spread through contact with soil, water or vegetation that has been contaminated with urine from infected animals, commonly rats and mice. In the recent outbreak, a large majority of infected dogs have died or been euthanased.

Vaccination offers good protection against Leptospirosis. Protection requires two doses, 2 to 4 weeks apart, and the second dose should be given at least two weeks before a dog enters an at-risk area.

In addition, dogs should be prevented from playing or swimming in pools of stagnant water, lakes or ponds as they could be a contaminated with Leptospirosis. This may include Canberra’s lakes.

The vaccination can be given in conjunction with your dog’s routine annual health check and vaccination, and this will save an extra visit and associated costs.

Leptospirosis can be contracted by people, and dogs may be the source of infection for humans. However, direct contact with the source infection (urine, or water contaminated with the urine of rodents) seems to be a more likely risk for people. Veterinary staff wear protective clothing (gowns, masks, gloves, eye protection) when handling suspect animals and specimens from them. If your pet becomes ill and Leptospirosis is suspected, we will give you relevant advice including and especially – seek advice from your medical practitioner.

The recent outbreak started about five years ago in some central suburbs in Sydney, and cases have now been found in:

  • Annandale,
  • Ashfield,
  • Balmain,
  • Cheltenham,
  • Cooks Hill,
  • Crows Nest,
  • Darlinghurst,
  • Elanora Heights,
  • Erskineville,
  • Figtree,
  • Firefly, Glebe,
  • Horsley Park,
  • Ingleside,
  • Lurnea,
  • Marrickville,
  • Medowie,
  • Newcastle,
  • Newtown,
  • Old Erowal Bay,
  • Paddington,
  • Redfern,
  • Sanctuary Point,
  • Speers Point,
  • South Coast,
  • St Georges Basin,
  • Surry Hills,
  • Trunkey Creek,
  • Waterloo
    • (as of mid June 2022).

17 cases of canine leptospirosis between 2017 and 2020 have been located in the following areas:-

  • Haymarket,
  • Surry Hills,
  • Redfern,
  • Glebe,
  • Darlinghurst,
  • Newtown,
  • Crows Nest,
  • Balmain;
  • Paddington;
  • Cheltenham;
  • Annandale.
    • (Griebisch 2022)

Known affected areas on the South Coast NSW (as of mid June 2022) are:

  • St Georges Basin and
  • Sanctuary Point.

So far, 38 dogs are known to have contracted Leptospirosis, and 27 of them (71%) have died or been euthanased (to mid- June 2022).

Of these 28 dogs, four were current with Leptospirosis vaccination. Of them 3 (75%) survived, compared with a survival rate of 24% survival in unvaccinated dogs.

Why doesn’t the vaccine confer 100% protection? The only vaccine available in Australia contains just one serovar of Leptospira (Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni), while many other serovars may be involved and several have been detected. There is cross protection between vaccine serovars and other serovars in the wild, and the exact relationship and the need for a broader vaccine is being researched by Dr Christine Griebsch in the Veterinary School at the University of Sydney.

While cats may become infected, this is rare, this seems to be uncommon, and they rarely become sick.

Given the steady spread of this very serious disease, we recommend that dogs visiting the South Coast, affected areas of Sydney, or Newcastle, should be protected by vaccination.

In light of the case revealed today, local dogs should also be vaccinated. We will open up short, 5 minute vaccination appointments for healthy dogs to receive Leptospira vaccination. Any other issues will need to be discussed at another routine appointment. These visits will be offered at reduced cost.

In addition, pay attention to risks in the environment (puddles, pools ponds and streams of stagnant or slowly flowing water).

And don’t forget that tick prevention is needed all year round for dogs and cats visiting anywhere on the East coast of Australia, and south as far as Melbourne.


Further reading

Australian Veterinary Association “What is Leptospirosis https://www.vetvoice.com.au/ec/diseases/what-is-leptospirosis/

CDC Leptospirosis Fact Sheet https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/resources/leptospirosis-fact-sheet.html



Goldstein 2010 Leptospirosis VetClin NA 40: 1091

Griebsch 2022 Emerging lepto Sydney dogs AVJ 100: 190

Sykes 2011 Leptospirosis consensus JVIM 25: 1-11