Ask the Vet: Should I vaccinate my dog for Leptospirosis?
Written by Dr. Melissa Magnuson
Answer: The quick answer is YES! Let me explain why. Leptospirosis is a bacterium found in water, soil and food. It survives well in the soil and water and unless it freezes or is exposed to direct sunlight—it grows and spreads in the environment. Wildlife, mostly raccoons, skunks and rats are most susceptible to leptospirosis and they carry it in their urine. Our dogs can come in contact with the urine of wildlife without even knowing it! Most of the wildlife that carries leptospirosis hide from people and come out at night so we have no idea where these animals are eliminating. Our dogs walk in the woods, play in bushes, dig up the soil and NEVER WEAR SHOES! So they are very susceptible to picking this organism up on their feet. When they clean their feet, they can ingest it or if they have a small cut on their feet, it can infect this way as well.
If your dog is infected with leptospirosis, it affects the kidneys and liver and causes failure. Yes kidney and liver failure and sometimes it is NOT reversible. Dogs that are infected will exhibit these signs of illness: fever, depression, loss of appetite, joint pain, nausea, excessive drinking, jaundice and sometimes bleeding. Dogs can be tested for Leptospirosis and treated, however, even with treatment, 50% will die.
You are also susceptible to leptospirosis as once your dog is shedding the bacteria in the urine, if you come in contact with the urine, you can become infected as well. People will have the same signs of illness as their dogs and will require hospitalization to treat the kidney and liver failure.
The best option is prevention. There is a vaccine for leptospirosis that prevents infection of 4 serovars (or types called canicola, grippotyphosa, pomona and icterohaemorragiae.) Some vaccines only prevent 2 types but ask your veterinarian for the vaccine that prevents 4 types. Your dog will be protected from the most common types of leptospirosis. Vaccination for leptospirosis often will cause a dog to not feel well afterwards (be lethargic, run a low grade fever and be painful at the injection site) for 24 hours. This is a normal response; it is not an adverse reaction to the vaccine but a normal vaccine reaction. When you or an animal is vaccinated with a bacterin-type vaccine (like leptospirosis or tetanus in people) you will not feel well because your body is building antibodies to protect you in the future. Other forms of prevention are staying away from areas where raccoons, skunks and rats congregate. Keep your dog away from ponds and standing water. Finally be sure to always wash your hands well after handling any urine or feces from your pet.
About Dr. Melissa Magnuson
Dr. Melissa Magnuson is a native of southern Minnesota, where she grew up on a small pig and cattle farm. Ever since she can remember, she’s wanted to be a veterinarian and fulfill her lifelong passion of helping animals. With a degree in biology and philosophy from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, she went on to work on a master’s degree at Southern Mississippi University. From there, she completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1998.
Her internship in small animal medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine brought her to the east coast. She has a special interest in surgery, emergency medicine, and avian and exotic animal care. Because she absolutely LOVES veterinary medicine, she never feels like she’s at work. She feels very lucky to have found her passion.
Dr. Magnuson is married to her best friend, Andy, with whom she has three beautiful daughters. Her pets include four dogs, three cats, a bird, a bearded dragon, and a guinea pig. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family outdoors, biking, hiking, swimming, and reading.