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Healthy Hounds: Leptospirosis – To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate?

This time on Healthy Hounds, we are discussing Leptospirosis (commonly known as “Lepto”), which is a potentially deadly bacterial infection in dogs. We feel that it is especially important to discuss this infection, as the vaccination is not always routinely given by Florida veterinarians. You, as a conscientious dog parent, should be informed about this disease and its risk factors, so you can make an educated decision as to whether or not you want your dog to have the Lepto vaccination.

Several years back, common thinking was that the Leptospirosis bacteria was not present in Florida, so the vaccination was no longer necessary for Florida dogs. At that time, many veterinarians stopped offering the vaccination without having a discussion about its necessity for each dog’s unique situation. This led to a number of deaths, as owners would take their dogs to areas of the country where Lepto was prevalent and bring the bacteria home with them, spreading the disease and increasing the number of deaths. 

The bacteria is found in soil, standing water and the urine of infected dogs. It is easily transmitted from dog to dog. Other common carriers are raccoon, possums, skunks and other wild animals. You should definitely consider getting the vaccination if your dog’s lifestyle includes: frequent exposure to other dogs, visiting rural areas, a wooded yard that is frequented by wildlife, travelling or contact with stagnant water.

Even with vaccination, your dog is still at risk due to the bacteria evolving, which is why it is important that you know the early symptoms.  They include fever, stiff joints and lethargy. See your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. If treated early, most dogs will recover easily with no long-term complications. If left untreated, the disease can result in kidney failure, liver failure and even death.

Just like all vaccinations, the Leptospirosis vaccine can have side effects, so many veterinarians choose not to include it in their annual vaccination packages. However, the vaccinations of today are safer than ever. Many in the canine health community consider Lepto side effects to be more prevalent and serious than the routine vaccinations (i.e., rabies and distemper). Some side effects could be an allergic reaction, lethargy for a few days, and at times, a shock-like condition.  Some breeds may be more likely to exhibit an allergic reaction, like toy breeds. 

Vaccinating against Leptospirosis is something that should be discussed with your veterinarian. If your dog is living an at-risk lifestyle,  you should have an informative discussion with your vet to determine if vaccinating is right for your dog.

We hope that this little article leaves you feeling a bit more informed and in control of your dog’s health care!