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Leptospirosis - To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate?

by Dr. Kelsey Woolsey

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis (Lepto) is a disease caused by infection with the bacterial spirochete Leptospira. Many different species of animals are susceptible to and can carry the bacteria that causes Leptospirosis including cattle, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals. Cats appear to be more resistant to infection than dogs. Lepto is also zoonotic, which means it can be transferred from animals to humans.

The organisms that cause lepto can spread and replicate in many organs, including the kidneys, liver, spleen, eyes, genital tract, and central nervous system. Infection most commonly causes disease of the kidneys and liver.

Scanning electron micrograph of Leptospira interrogans

How can our pets become infected with Leptospira?

Animals and humans can become infected through contact with infected urine. Pets can also become infected through bite wounds and ingestion of infected tissues. Indirect transmission can occur through exposure to water sources, soil, food, or bedding that are contaminated with infected urine or tissues.

Why is vaccination important?

Not only can lepto cause serious illness and even death in our pets but dogs with leptospirosis are a potential source of infection for people. Clinical signs of lepto in dogs include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, inappetence, weakness and depression, stiffness, and muscle pain. In humans, symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rash.

What is the vaccination schedule?

Two vaccine doses, 2-4 weeks apart, followed by annual boosters.

What are the vaccine risks?

Although reactions can occur after vaccination with leptospirosis, these vaccines are considered to be no more reactive than other vaccines administered to dogs. The most common reactions to any vaccine include discomfort and swelling at the vaccination site, mild fever, and decreased appetite and activity. Rare, but potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reaction may occur, but is a risk with any injection. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include persistent vomiting or diarrhea, hives, swelling of the muzzle, face, neck, or eyes, coughing and difficulty breathing. Most pets can be treated for vaccine reactions and recover with no issues.

Should my dog get the lepto vaccine?

If your dog has exposure to water sources (lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, etc), goes hiking or camping, or has access to areas where wildlife or farm animals live, then it is highly recommended your pet be vaccinated for lepto. The American Animal Hospital Association canine vaccination guidelines suggest considering vaccination for all dogs based on increasing prevalence of the disease. Vaccinating your dog can keep both you and your beloved pet safe!


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