Leptospirosis is a widespread anthropozoonosis, with a broad array of mammalian reservoirs, occurring as rural endemics, urban outbreaks related to floods, and emergent disease associated with water sports and recreational exposure in developed countries. Rats are the major source of human infection, particularly in urban areas; however few reports have focused on the pathology of leptospirosis in this host. This study reports pathological changes in 60 kidneys from captured wild rats and compares these with changes in the kidney of Wistar rats experimentally infected with Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain FIOCRUZ L1-130. A broad range of morphological alterations were detected in the kidneys from captured rats but interstitial nephritis was the only feature reproduced under experimental conditions. The role of interstitial nephritis in the pathogenesis of leptospirosis is reviewed and it is suggested that rats may provide a potential tool for the study of colonization mechanisms and host resistance in acute leptospiral disease.