I am asked quite often if a dog owner should be giving a Leptospirosis vaccine to their dog. In typical non-committal the owner makes the final decisions about their dog fashion I usually answer – “it depends”.
To be honest I am on the fence about it. In Illinois and in Indiana, which is where I live, it is endemic. Meaning it is all over the place here. There are estimates of 50% of the raccoon population carry the disease. Lepto is transmissible to humans and you can get it from your infected dog. Your dog can die from the disease or it can cause permanent kidney disease in dogs and humans. For those reasons it is important to vaccinate. In fact most veterinarians stop right there when describing lepto in order to convince you how necessary it is for your dog to receive the vaccine. It can be a scary disease.
So why would I be on the fence about such a horrific disease? Well, Lepto is a bacteria (spirochete) so the vaccine is not as long lasting as vaccine that protect against viruses, and it has to be given every year. In the past, the vaccine produced some significant side effects, the vaccine is cleaner now which has reduced some of the side effects, but it seems that some dogs are still experiencing them. Lepto has numerous strains more than 20, the vaccine protects only against 4 (the most common ones), so even if your dog is vaccinated it still can contract lepto, become sick and possibly transmit it to you or your children.
So if you have a healthy dog and you have wildlife in your backyard or you have a dog that does spend time out in the woods, ponds, or areas that are known to have a lot of wildlife then the Lepto vaccination would be appropriate. However, if your dog has allergies or other immune system issues then you need to consider that giving an annual vaccine is not the best for the health of your dog. Also one thing to know is that lepto is not a death sentence. It is a bacterial infection and if caught early can be treated successfully with no long term effects. It has to be caught, tested for, and treated. There in lies the problem. Many owners are slow to bring the dog to the vet and many vets do not think of lepto first when the dog comes in lethargic with signs of a urinary tract infection, because it usually isn’t. Most of the time symptoms like that is a simple bacterial infection not a kidney destroying life threatening zoonotic (that means humans can catch it) disease. The main difference is usually lethargy, if the dog is acting sick and has a urinary tract infection it is important to test for Lepto especially in endemic areas.
If you have more questions then ask away in the comment section below.
Here are a couple of articles with other opinions -