The Dangers of Drinking

March 2021 by Dr. Nikhil Joshi

“Just one drink can’t hurt,” Charlie thought to himself. Until now he had only drank at home, but now he was out and feeling anxious. Throwing caution to the wind, he took a tentative sip of the tawny elixir, and before he knew it, Charlie had guzzled his fill. The taste was fine, and better still, he felt no ill effects. Within minutes his parents called and demanded that he come home. Little did his family know that Charlie, their precious 6-month-old Pomeranian, had been exposed to a deadly disease by drinking standing water in their backyard.

The puddles around Charlie’s suburban home had been formed by a rainstorm the previous week. Backyard puddles were visited by several elusive residents of the neighborhood: foxes, raccoons, mice, and skunks, and these critters not only drank the water, they urinated wherever they saw fit. In doing so they spread Leptospira bacteria, the causative agent of leptospirosis, a highly contagious zoonotic disease affecting numerous animal species worldwide.

Leptospirosis is the most common zoonosis in the world and a common cause of acute kidney injury in people, with over one million human cases annually.1 The disease is most often associated with warm climates, but it is found across much of the United States and particularly prevalent in cities, where the disease is spread by rats. Infection generally results from indirect contact with the urine of infected animals. Contaminated ponds, lakes and standing water are often implicated, but dogs can also encounter the bacteria in boarding facilities or shelters. When an animal is exposed, the Leptospira enter the body through mucous membranes or damaged skin. From there, the bacteria spreads through the blood to most organs of the body in a state called leptospiremia, which lasts about a week. After this the leptospires colonize the proximal renal tubules, where they may persist for months to years: it is at this stage that the animal sheds the infectious organisms through the urine, where the cycle may start again in a new host.2

Dogs affected by leptospirosis can develop hepatic, renal, pulmonary, or ocular disease, leading to vague clinical signs such as lethargy, anorexia, vomiting, polyuria, fever and weakness. These signs can be severe, especially in young dogs. Diagnosis of leptospirosis through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or serologic titers can take days to weeks, so unfortunately, without rapid antibiotic treatment many dogs will succumb to the disease. Preventing leptospirosis through vaccination is therefore an essential component of canine wellness care.

Thankfully, Charlie was protected against the Leptospira bacteria he lapped up in his backyard. He had been inoculated with the Nobivac® Lepto4vaccine proven effective against disease and mortality caused by four serovars of Leptospira: L. canicola, L. icterohaemorrhagiae, L. pomona, and L. grippotyphosa.3 Moreover, his family was protected from exposure to his urine (he was still figuring out the pee pads in the house) since the vaccine also prevented the shedding of leptospires in the urine.4 Charlie may never learn the dangers of drinking strange water, but at least his family knows he is protected.

For more information on the Nobivac Lepto4 leptospirosis vaccine for dogs, please see:


1 Costa, F., et al. Global Morbidity and Mortality of Leptospirosis: A Systematic Review. PLoS neglected tropical diseases. (2015). 9(9).

2 Ellis W.A. Animal Leptospirosis. In: Adler B. (eds) Leptospira and Leptospirosis. Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology. (2015). vol 387.

3 LaFleur R., et al. Prevention of disease and mortality in vaccinated dogs following experimental challenge with virulent leptospiremia. ACVIM Forum abstract (2011).

4 LaFleur R., et al. Prevention of leptospiremia and leptospiuria following vaccination with dappv+4-way leptospira combination vaccine (Poster, Merck). (2016)

About the author

Dr. Nikhil Joshi meet the team

Nikhil Joshi

Professional Services Veterinarian,
Mid-Atlantic Region (DC, DE, MD, PA)