Leptospirosis vaccine for dogs is perhaps the most controversial vaccine pet parents talk about.

As pet parents, we want to ensure that our beloved pooch is well protected from diseases that may be easily preventable. But, what do you do as a pet owner when you know that the vaccination against a disease can be just as dangerous?

In this article, we will help you answer that very question! We will discuss everything you need to know about the —Leptospirosis and its vaccination.

What Is Leptospirosis?

What Is Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the Leptospira bacteria and affects both humans and animals.

It’s an infectious disease transmitted through an infected animal’s urine. The main transmitters of the disease are dogs, rodents, and farm animals.

Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the urine of infected animals or with water or soil also contaminated will result in a very high chance of getting a leptospirosis infection.

Human leptospirosis is hard to diagnose because humans develop flu-like symptoms. About 90% of adults get over a leptospiral infection as if it were a normal cold and don’t need hospitalization.

Leptospirosis in dogs can be more dangerous as they are more exposed to contaminated sources.

Because dogs like playing in streams, rivers, and ponds, they are more prone to leptospiral infections.

Signs of leptospirosis don’t always show themselves, and when they do, it’s usually between for and twelve days after infection. A lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea are common signs that the puppy is infected with the leptospira bacteria.

Fortunately, a plan for leptospirosis vaccination has been around for decades and the vaccines are being improved every couple of years.

The new vaccine being administered, also known as lepto 4, protects dogs against four virulent Leptospira serovars and the negative vaccine reactions are much less prevalent when compared to lepto 2.

The leptospirosis vaccination boosts immune response and makes it less likely that dogs will die from this infection.

Which Dogs Are at Greater Risk of Getting Leptospirosis?

Leptospira can be found everywhere in the world; therefore, dogs in all areas of the globe are at risk of being infected by this bacteria.

Because of how it’s spread, dogs who spend more time in rural areas and around rivers, lakes and streams are more likely to contract leptospirosis than those who don’t. This is because during their roams and walks they are more exposed to rodents and animal farms who might be infected. The soil and water — either with the purpose of drinking or of leisure — are also more likely to be contaminated with Leptospira because of said animals and their urine.

Dogs who live in particularly humid, hot climates are also at a greater risk of infection, especially those in areas where floods are frequent.

That is not to say that dogs who live primarily indoors in cities are not at risk. Leptospirosis has been found in all areas — rural, suburban, and urban. If the rodent population in your house or building are carrying the disease, your pup might still be at risk.

A Leptospirosis Dog Vaccine Can Protect More Than Just Your Dog!

A Leptospirosis Dog Vaccine Can Protect More Than Just Your Dog

With the number of leptospirosis cases on the rise in the United States, there is a new, improved vaccine in the market.

Because it is a non-core vaccine in the US, you have the choice of whether or not vaccinate your dog, although the pros outweigh the cons.

It is recommended for dogs to be vaccinated against this vicious, preventable disease, and those who are at particular risk of infection should be definitely protected against it by vaccination.

Even though your dog may not be in contact with infected rodents and farm animals, or with contaminated water and soil, weather patterns change all the time — therefore all areas are at risk of having leptospirosis-infected populations.

Because lepto is a zoonotic disease — meaning it can be passed from animals to humans — vaccinating your dog will not only protect him against the bacteria but also all your human loved ones that come in contact with your pup.

Making sure that the dogs in your household can’t be infected by this disease gives you the guarantee that no relative or friend gets sick, as there is no vaccine for humans. This disease, like many others, is particularly aggressive towards pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

You will even be protecting other animals that your four-legged friend comes in contact with — all with a simple, safe, and recommended vaccine!

The Reach of this Zoonotic Disease

The chain of contamination can start on farm animals or small rodents, go through your dog, and finally to any human — child or adult.

Owners of dogs carrying the disease are more likely to contract it than those whose dogs aren’t Leptospira carriers.

Normal activities such as handling dogs’ beds and bowls, face licking, and cleaning up dog urine can now be vehicles for the bacteria. If you suspect your dog to be carrying Leptospira, take preventive measures when you’re around them.

Leptospirosis Vaccine for Dogs that Travel

If your dog frequently travels to areas that are humid and hot, or to places where leptospirosis presence is either confirmed or suspected, you should vaccinate them. These are areas where your dog will be at higher risk, meaning being infected by the bacteria will be easier.

One thing to consider too is that it is possible to be carrying Leptospira upon return to their hometown, which could mean starting an outbreak of the disease in an otherwise lepto-free area.

Leptospirosis Vaccine: Dogs Who Should Get It

Leptospirosis is a dangerous bacterial infection that can cause severe health problems for your dog.

Lepto vaccine is considered a situational vaccine. This means that only certain dogs should be vaccinated against lepto. For examples, dogs who live in areas where the bacteria might be more prevalent will require vaccination.

Dogs who live in close proximity to wildlife such as raccoons and rodents may require lepo vaccination. This is because the bacterial infection often spreads through urine, so if you think your dog may come into contact with urine from wild animals then make sure you vaccinate your dog.

If you are still uncertain as to what dogs require the canine leptospirosis vaccine then here is a brief list of possible candidates:

  • Hunting dogs may require the lepto vaccine due to their close encounters with wildlife
  • Dogs who tend to live outdoors
  • Dogs who may go on camping or hiking trips with their owners
  • Young puppies or senior dogs
  • Any dog that may come into close contact with wildlife urine or rodent urine.

The important point to consider is that leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease that is literally going to be everywhere!

It is a bacterial infection that can be seen in rodents, livestock and even wildlife. The disease may be more prevalent in mild to tropical climates, or areas with heavy rainfall.

Now, it is actually quite hard to figure out if your dog truly needs to be vaccinated against lepto. So, we’ve made it easy for you!

Ask yourself the following questions to help make your decision. If the answer is “YES” to all then the leptospirosis vaccine is what you need.

  1. Do you have a persisting rodent problem?
  2. Do you have wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, rodents, and other wildlife around your home? your backyard? Chances are they are definitely urinating around your area as well.
  3. Does your dog venture out of the house for a long time? Does your dog sleep in an outside kennel?
  4. Does your dog hunt or eat rodents?
  5. Do you go on a lot of camping trips with your dog? what about hiking?

Is a Leptospirosis Vaccine Safe for My Dog?

Is a Leptospirosis Vaccine Safe for My Dog

We’ve all heard the stories of anti-vaxxers who avoid vaccinating their child. Now, vaccines are there to help us! Without vaccines, people and children would still be dying from polio, hepatitis B, measles, and tetanus.

The same is true for our pets! Vaccines are there to help vets prevent diseases that can otherwise take your pets life.

Unfortunately, no vaccine may be 100% effective. This is true, but it still does not mean it won’t protect your pet!

Take for example the influenza vaccination in humans.

Influenza is a disease caused by a virus, the CDC analyzes many of these viral strains in order to create a new vaccine. Once a person is vaccinated then they may either, not develop the disease or they may catch the disease but have very mild symptoms.

The same is true for pets!

In the case of the leptospirosis vaccine, it is true that adverse reactions can exist. This can often include anaphylactic reactions, facial swelling, pain at the injection site or hives. In rare cases, leptospirosis vaccines can be fatal to some dogs, but don’t let this put you off vaccinations altogether.

5 Things to Discuss with Your Vet Before Giving Your Dog the Leptospirosis Vaccine

If you’ve done your research on the lepto vaccine, then you now not only know the dangers of the disease itself, but also the vaccine.

So, now it may seem like choosing the lesser of two evils — do you let your dog face exposure to leptospira or do you vaccinate your pooch and hope that there are no adverse reactions?

There is no need to make this decision yourself! That’s what veterinarians are here for! If you truly are concerned ask your vet the following questions:

  1. Among all your patients, how common are the adverse reactions to leptospirosis vaccine?
  2. If your vet is your local vet in the area, then ask them how common are lepto cases in the community?
  3. Some breeds or dog breed sizes may be more susceptible to reactions. Ask your vet if your dog may likely react to the vaccine.
  4. Explain your dogs’ general lifestyle and environment. Talk about what places your dog likes to visit, his prey drive and activity level.
  5. Discuss if your dog has had any reactions to any past vaccines.

Common Leptospirosis Vaccine Side Effects

Side effects and adverse reactions to vaccines can be both mid to severe. Here we have listed some common side effects a dog may have to the canine leptospirosis vaccine.

The first common reaction may be anaphylaxis—which simply means an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

Remember, some vaccines are actually created using the proteins of the actual virus or bacteria itself. If the vaccine tends to have a large amount of the bacterial protein, then chances are some dogs may develop some form of an allergic reaction.

The second common reaction a dog may develop is local reactions. 

This means that your dog may develop mild pain, redness, soreness or swellings at the site of injections. In rare cases, local reactions can be quite severe. For example, some dogs may develop granulomas or growths at the site of injection.

The third common reaction may be systemic reactions—which simply means your dog may develop fevers, loss of appetite, lethargy or depression. Very rarely are systemic reactions life threatening as they usually disappear a few days post vaccination.

Know the Signs of a Leptospirosis Vaccine Reaction

If you think your dog is reacting to his lepto vaccination, then try not to wait more than 24 hours.

The common clinical signs of the adverse reactions to the lepto vaccine are quite diverse. So, not all dogs will be affected the same way—or have the same reactions as other dogs.

If you think your dog is reacting, then look for the following clinical signs:

  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Swelling at injection site
  • Hives
  • Uncontrolled pruritis
  • Dermatitis

Leptospirosis Vaccine: Adverse Reaction Chances Now vs. Then

Every vaccine carries some risks, and the leptospirosis vaccine is no exception.

A dog can go into anaphylactic shock when vaccinated if he is allergic to one of the components.

These sudden reactions that can go from mild to life-threatening can be treated with the commonly known EpiPens and antihistamines. The risk, no matter how low, associated with vaccines has many considering whether or not to vaccinate their pets, but vaccines have come a long way and they’re constantly being improved.

The new leptospirosis vaccine, also known as lepto 4, protects dogs against four strains of leptospirosis.

The older commercialized vaccine, also known as lepto 2, protected them against only two strains of the disease.

Dogs vaccinated with the lepto 4 vaccine are much less likely to develop adverse reactions than those who were vaccinated with the lepto 2 vaccine. The newer, updated vaccine is safer for dogs and gives them extra protection.

What is the Leptospirosis Vaccine’s Big Downside?

What is the Leptospirosis Vaccines Big Downside

While the new vaccine offers protection against the most common strains of leptospirosis in the US and Europe, there are no guarantees your pup will be protected from all kinds of leptospirosis.

Like all vaccines, the leptospirosis can have some adverse reactions in dogs.

These reactions can be mild or more complicated, needing a visit to the vet in the most extreme cases.

A dog can go into anaphylactic shock and show the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, changes in urination and pooping, loss of energy and lethargy, and heightened heart rate. Although not all dogs react adversely to the vaccine, and those with known weak immune systems, pregnant, or who have gone into anaphylactic shock in the past are more likely to have adverse reactions.

One last downside of the vaccine is that it needs annual boosting to remain effective.

Leptospirosis Vaccine Cost

The leptospirosis vaccine cost varies from state to state, and from clinic to clinic, so it’s hard to say how much vaccinating your dog against this disease might cost.

However, vaccines are much cheaper than what most pet-parents think. This vaccine costs anywhere between $15 and $30 per shot, meaning that getting the two shots every year would cost between $30 and $60 annually.

While the cost of the vaccine may seem high, the cost of hospitalization and treatment of a dog with a serious case of leptospirosis can reach the thousands of dollars. According to a study conducted in northern California between 2001 and 2010, the average cost of treatment for a dog sick with leptospirosis was $5459.

  Leptospirosis Vaccine Schedule (It Doesn’t Last Very Long)

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, puppies younger than 16 weeks of age should be vaccinated twice — the first dose can be given when the puppy is eight or nine weeks old, and the second two to four weeks after the first.

If the puppy is older than 16 weeks, the vaccine should be given two to four weeks apart.

Because the vaccine will not protect your dog for the rest of their life, if your pup is still at high risk of getting leptospirosis, it should be boosted a year after the conclusion of the first set of two vaccines. After that, it should be boosted annually.

It’s Up to You Whether or Not to Get the Leptospirosis Vaccine for Your Doggo!

We love our dogs and want to make sure out beloved doggo stays safe from these dangerous bacterial infections. There’s, unfortunately, no way for us as pet owners or veterinarians, to predict the outcome a vaccine may have on our pet. But, if we talk to our vet, weigh out the pros and cons, safety issues and adverse reactions, then we can make the best decision possible for our pooch!