Vaccinations: Leptospirosis

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Vaccinations: Leptospirosis | Dog Owner Ratings | RightPet

What is Leptospirosis in dogs
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the Leptospira bacteria. The Leptospirosis bacteria is found worldwide, and is more common in areas with warm and wet climates, though it can exist anywhere. In the United States, dog Leptospirosis is most common in Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Texas, the mid-Atlantic coastal states, and in the southeastern states.

Leptospirosis in dogs is transmitted from the urine of infected wildlife (rodents, skunks, raccoons etc.) and infected waterways (puddles, streams, rivers). If a dog's mucous membranes (gums, nose, eyes), or a wound on the skin, comes in contact with the bacteria, an infection can occur. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which can be spread from animals to humans, though this is believed to be quite rare.

Leptospirosis symptoms in dogs
Many (perhaps most) cases of Leptospirosis in dogs are subclinical and don't produce symptoms. For those dogs who do develop signs of Leptospirosis, the severity of symptoms can vary from flu-like symptoms of fever, vomiting, muscle pain, diarrhea, lack of appetite and lethargy, to severe liver and kidney failure and even death. Typically, Leptospirosis symptoms start 8 - 10 days after exposure.

What is the Leptospirosis vaccine?
The Leptospirosis vaccine is not considered to be one of the core vaccines for dogs (vaccines against canine distemper virus, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus, with or without parainfluenza virus, and rabies vaccine). The Leptospirosis vaccine can be given individually, or can be added to a combination vaccine formula like DHLLP (vaccines for distemper, adenovirus [hepatitis], parainfluenza, leptospirosis, and parvo).

One issue with the vaccine is that there are nine “serovars” (distinct variations within a species of bacteria) of Leptospirosis which can cause infection, and the vaccine only contains the most common, four serovars (the newer serotypes L. grippotyphosa and L. pomona, and the older serotypes, L. canicola and L. icterohemorrhagiae). There is really no cross-immunity between these types, meaning that vaccinating for one type will not give you protection for other types as well. So it is possible for vaccinated dogs to still contract the disease.

How is the Leptospirosis dog vaccine administered?
Leptospirosis dog vaccines (4-serovar leptospirosis vaccine) are available in combination with CORE vaccines and as a Leptospirosis only product that is not combined with other vaccines.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccination Guidelines suggest:

  1. For puppies, the initial vaccine is administered at 8 - 12 weeks old and is then repeated 2- 4 weeks later
  2. Puppies 16 weeks or older, or adult dogs who are receiving the leptospirosis vaccine for the first time, two doses 2- 4 weeks apart are recommended
  3. In areas where there is a high risk of dog Leptospirosis, a single dose is given 1 year annually after the completion of the initial 2-dose series

Why is the Leptospirosis vaccine important
Traditionally, the Leptospirosis dog vaccine is usually not given unless there have been numerous cases of infection in a geographic area, however, because Leptospirosis is a life-threatening disease, many veterinarians recommend vaccination even with low exposure risk. "Preventing the disease with an inexpensive vaccine is much better than having to treat expensively with no guarantee your pet survives" says Rachel_Muur_DVM.

RightPet member M Teiber DVM says, "I highly recommend that all dogs receive the leptospirosis vaccine. Leptospirosis is a dangerous bacterial infection that can cause liver and kidney failure. Without aggressive treatment, it can be fatal. Leptospirosis can also be spread to people.

The leptospirosis vaccine greatly reduces clinical illness from leptospirosis. Sometimes it gets a bad reputation for causing vaccine reactions, especially in small dogs. In my experience, this is unfounded. The current vaccines are safe with a very low risk of allergic reactions. It must be boostered yearly.

Leptospirosis is spread through the urine of other other affected dogs or rodents. Many people choose not to vaccinate their smaller dogs who don't go outdoors much. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Most dogs I have seen get leptospirosis are small breeds who spend most of their time indoors. Therefore, I recommend the vaccine for almost every dog."

Leptospirosis vaccine side effects
Some dog owners are concerned about side effects from vaccination however a 2017 study from the UK's Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) found that the incidence of adverse animal reactions for all Leptospirosis vaccines (in the UK) combined is 0.015% for Leptospirosis2 vaccines and 0.069% for Leptospirosis4 vaccine products. This is extremely low.

KatieS says, "My dog has never had any side effects from receiving this vaccine and she gets it yearly. We live in an area where it is prevalent and there have been cases of dogs dying who did not survive the disease. It can be contracted through wild animal urine and my dog runs in the field all the time. We also go hiking frequently."

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