Telling tails…


Amongst the devastation caused by recent rain and flooding on the eastern coast of Australia, a naughty little bacteria called Leptospira has reared it’s head again and an increase in animal and human illness has resulted. If you’ve spent time in the tropics of the Northern Territory or Queensland then this is a bug that you’re probably already familiar with but it has also had a history of popping up in other parts of the country too.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can infect both humans and animals. It is caused by a bacteria (genus Leptospira) that thrives in moist and humid areas, and is spread through animal urine and animal tissue. Rats are the most common carrier but mice and some wildlife are also a risk.

Leptospirosis is a common problem in areas after flooding or heavy rainfall, which is why most cases in northern Australia occur during the wet season.

How is leptospirosis transmitted?

You or your pet can catch leptospirosis if you are bitten by a carrier or if you come into contact with water, mud or soil that has been contaminated with infected urine. For example, if a rat urinates into a body of water and your pet drinks that water, they are at risk of infection.

The bacteria can also enter the body through cuts in the skin or occasionally via the gums, mouth, nose and eyes. So a dog that swims in infected water or even just stands in infected mud is at risk.

Cats are more likely to become infected by eating infected rodents or their carcasses.

Sugarcane and banana plantations are recognised as a high risk areas due to their attraction of rodents. 

Traditionally, farms are a risk as cattle and pigs can transmit leptospirosis, but most commercial farms vaccinate their animals so it’s mainly backyard or lifestyle properties with a few animals that may not be vaccinated that pose a risk.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

The incubation period, from infection to signs appearing, is approximately 7 days (although they can be seen between 1-14 days).

Leptospirosis mainly affects the liver and kidneys. Signs of leptospirosis in dogs and cats include being generally unwell, lethargic, have a mild fever, walking stiffly or reluctant to move, refusal to eat, vomiting or diarrhoea, increased thirst or urination and jaundice.

Owners are encouraged to be especially mindful of these symptoms if their dog has recently been in contact with a body of stagnant water, areas where wildlife inhabit, near a rodent infestation or if their cat likes to hunt rodents. Please seek immediate veterinary treatment for your pet if you notice any of the above signs and think your pet may be at risk.

How long does the Leptospira bacteria survive for?

Leptospirosis bacteria can survive in moist or humid areas for months. Reservoir hosts (such as rats) allow for the continued spread and contamination of the environment.

How do I prevent my pet from catching it?

Preventing pets from drinking or swimming in stagnant water and avoiding areas where rats, mice, wildlife or farm animals congregate is advisable. Owners are encouraged to get their pets vaccinated against leptospirosis at their local veterinary clinic if their pets are visiting or living in high risk areas.

There are different strains of leptospirosis bacteria which occur in certain areas and different vaccines for each strain. Local veterinarians will stock the vaccine relevant to their area. An initial 2 doses are given, 4 weeks apart, then 6 or 12 monthly boosters will vary with vaccine type and individual risk factors. Generally, one vaccine (Auslepto) covers the main Leptospira strain in the Northern Territory and Queensland, and another vaccine (Protech C2i) covers the main Leptospira strain in NSW and Victoria.

Cases have been previously reported in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Northern NSW, around Sydney and eastern Victoria.

Can leptospirosis be treated?

If caught early, yes, leptospirosis responds to antibiotic treatment and supportive care. But the disease may be severe with long term damage done to kidneys, liver and other organs so early treatment is most effective and intensive care may be necessary.

Am I at risk of catching leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a zoonosis, meaning that it is a disease that can be passed from animals to people. So, keeping your dog safe and healthy plays a part in keeping you and your human family members safe as well.

Symptoms in humans can include fever, severe headache, sore muscles, chills, vomiting and red eyes.

What should I do now?

For the majority of the population, leptospirosis is not something to be worried about, just be aware and proactive for prevention. If you are travelling or living in a high risk area with your dog then vaccination is advisable.

Chat to your veterinarian about whether vaccination is appropriate for your dog and situation.


For peace of mind, keep a Vet in a Van – Navigator Pet First Aid Kit at home and in your car.


What is Ehrlichia and can it make my dog sick?

Ehrlichia can make your dog sick. Ehrlichia canis is a bacteria that causes a disease called Ehrlichiosis, which is responsible for making dogs very sick. Ehrlichia is found in many tropical and subtropical regions all over the world and, unfortunately, has spread through northern Australia since it was first detected in the Kimberley region of Western Australia back in May 2020. Ehrlichia is now widespread across the Northern Territory and has also been making dogs sick across the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne and upper Goldfields regions of Western Australia. Cases have recently been discovered in Queensland and Victoria in dogs travelling from these areas and ticks in northern South Australia have been found to carry the bacteria. In January 2022, a dog in Mt Isa, Queensland, was confirmed to have been infected locally so the disease can now be presumed to be present in northern Queensland. UPDATE: As of December 2022, cases have been confirmed in Townsville.


How is Ehrlichiosis diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis in dogs can be tricky because the signs vary, but early diagnosis and treatment give the best chance of recovery. Diagnosis is based on the combination of the history of a dog travelling to affected areas, the clinical signs and a blood test. Treatment with a very long course of antibiotics is possible but can be complicated in severe cases as the bacteria can hide within the body and cause severe damage to different internal organs.

If your dog has been in a tick-prone area and shows any of these signs then please seek veterinary advice as soon as possible, even if the illness doesn’t seem too bad or your dog seems to recover temporarily:

  • A high temperature or fever
  • Being lethargic or not moving around much
  • Going off their food
  • Losing weight
  • A runny nose or eyes
  • Any unusual bleeding, bruising or swellings
  • Cloudy eyes


If Ehrlichia is a bacteria, then why do we keep talking about ticks?

Ehrlichia is carried by the Brown Dog Tick and dogs become infected when an infected tick bites them. The Brown Dog Tick is common and widespread across most of Australia so Ehrlichia has the potential to spread this far – which we really don’t want! Ticks are most commonly picked up from grass near other dogs, stock or wildlife.


Are you in or heading to northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory or Queensland with your dog?

Dog movement restrictions currently apply to any dogs leaving northern Western Australia or the Northern Territory. So, even if you’re just popping up north for a quick holiday, this applies to you. Check out this government website for details:

The important points are to:

  • Check the government requirements for the State/Territory you are moving to
  • Treat and check your dog for ticks in the 7 days before moving out of the area
  • And, to tell your vet that you’ve visited the affected regions if your dog becomes sick afterwards


How can I prevent ticks and Ehrlichia from making my dog sick?

This disease IS preventable and we can all contribute to preventing it’s spread into the southern and eastern areas of Australia.

If you are travelling to the northern parts of Australia then please have your dog on an effective tick treatment at all times.

On a practical basis, effective tick prevention means you need to do three things:

1. Treat your dog with an effective medication that kills ticks – these are the regular chews or spot ons that your dog might already be on (like Nexgard or Bravecto).

2. Add a tick repellent product that aims to stop ticks from attaching to your dog – this may be a collar (Seresto) or spot on (Advantix).

3. Unfortunately, no tick preventative is 100% guaranteed, so if you’re in a tick-prone area then you still need to check your dog for ticks at least once a day and carefully remove any. Check out our Tick Check Guide for how to do a thorough tick check on your pet.


Why does my dog need to use both a chew and a repellent collar to prevent Ehrlichia?

The reasoning behind using both a tick preventative AND a repellent is that the usual tick preventatives are in the bloodstream so ticks need to attach to the dog and suck blood before they are killed, which can take about 5-6 hours. The Ehrlichia bacteria can transfer from the tick to the dog in around 1-2 hours, which is faster than these medications can kill the tick.

The repellent products stop up to 95% of ticks from attaching at all by creating a residue in the oils on the skin and coat. I like to call this a dog’s ‘invisibility cloak’ against ticks, with the chew or spot on and a physical tick check as the back up plan just in case one does attach.


Which tick preventatives are the best?

There are a few different chew and spot on tick prevention products available and not every one is suitable for every dog, so chat to either Dr Tania or your usual veterinarian about which ones are best for your dog. These include products like Bravecto, Nexgard or Simparica.

The Seresto collar (for small and large dogs) is the most recommended tick repellent product as it only needs to be replaced every four months, is waterproof and is supported internationally to have more than 90% efficacy in preventing Ehrlichiosis. Another option with proven efficacy against Ehrlichia is the monthly spot on treatment Advantix. The Kiltix collar is another viable option (based on the active ingredients) but is not waterproof and hasn’t been proven against Ehrlichia in any studies. Just be aware that there have been some fake tick repellent collars selling online, so please buy one from a reputable source.


Vet in a Van is committed to protecting your dog and limiting the spread of Ehrlichia in Australia

Follow any of the above links for tick preventatives or head to and enter our unique code VIAV100R at the top left of the screen for an exclusive discount on all tick preventatives and pet supplies.



Keep your chosen parasite preventatives handy by storing them in your Vet in a Van – Navigator Pet First Aid Kit



*Information provided here is based on information available to us at the time of publishing and not intended as an individual veterinary recommendation for any product or action. You should consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your individual pet and read all product labels and instructions prior to the use of any product.

**By using our discount code, you save money and Vet in a Van receives a small margin on each sale which helps us to keep helping you and your pets.


How frustrating is it trying to find places to stay with your fur baby?! Thanks to the guys at Cruisin’ Pets, finding pet friendly accomodation is super easy whether you’re planning a holiday or doing a big lap of Australia.

They’ve collated thousands of motels, caravan parks, tourist parks and other holiday destinations that will look after you and your best friend. We love that they have an interactive map to find places to stay for the whole family.

Check out their website and download their app from the Play Store or App Store for quick access on your phone or smart devices.


Wherever you choose to holiday, be sure to pack your Vet in a Van – Navigator Pet First Aid Kit!

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