Contributed by Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ.
Consider These Facts Before Getting Your Dog the Lepto Vaccine
Historically, leptospirosis in dogs has been considered a disease primarily associated with dogs that live in or travel to rural areas, wet areas or areas frequented by wildlife. According to Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian Emilio DeBess, DVM, MPVM, associated risk factors have changed, and pet parents should be aware that their pet may be at risk.
If you have never heard of leptospirosis in dogs (also known as lepto), it is a bacterial disease that can be contracted by both dogs and humans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People and dogs that are infected can develop fatal liver or kidney failure, and are very infectious to other dogs and other people. Leptospirosis symptoms include sudden fever and illness, sore muscles, shivering and weakness.
In the past, leptospirosis in dogs was primarily seen in canines that lived in rural areas, wet areas or areas with wildlife traffic. In recent years, the main risk factors for leptospirosis have changed, and now include unvaccinated dogs, small breed dogs and even dogs that live in urban areas. Leptospirosis also flourishes during warm and wet times of the year.
These days, thanks to urban sprawl and fragmentation of wildlife areas, city dogs and dogs that live in purses are at risk, and the disease risk is growing. I practice in Greeley, Colorado, a town of 100,000 people, and veterinarians in our clinic have diagnosed several cases of lepto, including a Yorkie that lives in a purse and hardly ever touches the ground. We would have never suspected leptospirosis in these patients if we hadn’t been testing for the disease.
According to a 2017 study in The Veterinary Journal, leptospirosis in dogs is common and widespread, with disease reported in every state in the continental United States. The risk appears to go up in dogs that live closer to forests or wild areas, and dogs that live in areas that are low-density residential. The big yard may be good for running around and burning off energy, but it also harbors potential infectious organisms.
The good news is that dogs can be protected against leptospirosis with an annual lepto vaccine for dogs. Since all dogs are at risk, and leptospirosis in dogs is also a human health risk, I recommend that all dogs receive the vaccine (unless a dog has adverse reactions to vaccines).
If you have spent any time searching the Internet, then you will likely notice there is still a prevailing belief that the leptospirosis vaccine has a high reaction rate. In the past, this was true—the vaccine seemed to cause adverse reactions in a number of dogs, including vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and sometimes, hives. Fortunately, science has progressed, and the new lepto vaccine for dogs has a very low reaction rate. Published data from Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the companies who manufactures a leptospirosis vaccine, shows very low vaccine-associated adverse events. If you are still nervous, it may help to know that leptospirosis is a killed vaccine, and is no more reactive than a common rabies vaccine. If you have a dog that is sensitive to vaccines, or a very small dog, ask your veterinarian to break up vaccines into multiple visits, so your dog has a chance to recover in between vaccines.
The best way to protect your dog against leptospirosis and leptospirosis symptoms is to have him receive the leptospirosis vaccine as a puppy, and then have him vaccinated annually after that.
It is very difficult to control leptospirosis in your environment if you have a yard, as it is carried by wildlife. The good news is that leptospirosis is very wimpy and doesn’t live in the environment very long. If you are walking your dog by streams or rivers, don’t let your dog drink water from them to minimize the chances of contracting lepto (or giardia!) from the river.