Dog Vaccine Primer 11/ Does My Dog Need a Leptospirosis Vaccination?
This summer, the Los Angeles Public Health Department reported a significant increase in cases of canine leptospirosis (lepto) in the western regions of Los Angeles County. Because leptospirosis is potentially contagious to people, public health officials monitor such outbreaks. But was the outbreak significant enough and widespread enough to be concerned about having your dog vaccinated for leptospirosis? The answer is maybe yes or maybe no. We hope the contents of this blog help you with the decision to vaccinate or not.
What is leptospirosis, how do dogs catch it, and how is it treated?
Leptospirosis (lepto) is a bacteria that is carried by dogs, mice, rats, raccoons, opossums, and other small wildlife that are common in our area. Dogs are infected by drinking water that has been contaminated by the urine of the wildlife. Outside water bowls, fountains, ponds, areas of shallow standing water like marshes and small lakes can also be contaminated. The lepto found in LA is a type that is passed from dog to dog by urine or saliva ingestion from an infected dog or water contaminated by the urine or saliva of an infected dog. After ingestion, the bacteria finds its way to the kidneys and/or liver and causes kidney or liver failure (5-14 days). Early symptoms are lethargy, fever, decreased appetite. As the condition begins to cause kidney or liver dysfunction dogs drink excessively, vomit, have diarrhea, and become extremely dehydrated and weak. This is when owners typically seek veterinary care and hospitalization.
When dogs are hospitalized, lab work indicates kidney and sometimes liver dysfunction. Veterinarians suspicious of lepto will run specific urine and lab tests to confirm the infection. Once the diagnosis is made, treatment with common antibiotics readily rid the kidneys of the bacteria and allows the dog to recover uneventfully. Dogs diagnosed very late with the disease may experience permanent kidney damage or liver damage.
Recent Outbreak Data
As of July, there have been 120 reported cases of Leptospirosis in the west LA area. 103 (86%) were confirmed as lepto infections and 17 (14%) were presumed. 100 (83%) of cases had associations with recent boarding or daycare facility or dog park exposure. Most lepto in the LA basin prior to this outbreak is caused by wildlife contaminated water. The cause and reason for this recent outbreak is unclear as 88% of the cases were associated with facilities where dog-to-dog contact is the only source of infection.
For years, veterinarians have stopped vaccinating for leptospirosis because vaccine reactions were extremely common. The low risk of disease just didn’t justify the risk of post-vaccination adverse reactions. Worse, to be fully effective, lepto vaccines need to be given every six months!
If owners avoid boarding/daycare facilities and dog parks, seek mobile grooming options and do not leave water bowls outdoors, and prevent wildlife access to fountains and ponds, we feel the risk of disease is low.
Because leptospirosis vaccine is not available mercury-free, needs twice-yearly injections, and has a reputation for vaccination reactions, we are presently not offering the vaccines. If you want to continue using boarding/daycare facilities, grooming facilities, and dog parks and wish to have your dog protected, you may wish to seek the vaccine from alternative sources (another veterinarian, vaccination clinics, etc.).
As always, when doing any sort of medical intervention, it is a matter of weighing your risks. I hope this article has helped you understand the issues to consider.