What is Leptospirosis and why should I vaccinate my dog for it?


A question we technicians hear often while we are setting up a dog for it’s annual checkup is – “What is the leptospirosis vaccine?”

Probably why most clients don’t recognize the name is because when our dogs are puppies, the leptospirosis (lepto for short) vaccine is given in a combo vaccine along with distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvo. In the veterinary profession we call this combo vaccine simply “distemper”, when in truth they are vaccinated against several diseases. Then, at the dog’s one year physical exam, we say they are due for their distemper and lepto, and you are wondering where this mysterious lepto has come from! To explain, the “distemper” vaccine is still vaccinating your loved one against distemper, adenovirus, and parvo. At Kingsbrook Animal Hopsital we want to assure that we are not overvaccinating pets and for this reason, once dogs reach the one year mark (provided they recieved the correct puppy series while young) the “distemper” vaccine will only be boostered every three years for the rest of their lives. However studies have shown that the lepto portion of the vaccine, previously given in the combo during puppyhood, is not effective for as long and needs to be boostered every year. So starting at one year, they recieve the vaccines seperately and on different schedules. Lepto is considered a core vaccination, yet is not given in all areas or even recommended in all hospitals.

Which leads to your next two questions- why is it highly recommended at KAH and what exactly IS IT!

Leptospirosis is a type of bacteria highly prevelant in our area that can affect both dogs and humans. The disease caused by this bacteria can quickly infect both the kidneys and the liver. Leptospirosis can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms that it causes to the liver and kidneys could be caused by many kinds of diseases. There is also the possiblity to get false negative results for specific tests that can be done even in the acute phase of the disease. Lepto can be contracted by direct or indirect contact with the skin or mucous membranes with an infected animal’s urine or by direct organism ingestion. Carriers of lepto include rodents, cattle, swine, racoons, opossums, and several other animal species.
Treatment for this disease is supportive care and antibiotics, however it is very expensive and, as mentioned before, difficult to diagnose.
Considering this, PREVENTION would be best and inexpensive in light of the difficulties to correctly dianose and treat this disease. Please feel free to ask our staff if you have any questions or concerns about leptospirosis and the vaccine that we administer here at KAH!