Canine Leptospirosis Vaccination Decisions: Traveling and the Return of the Vaccination Dilemma

Leptospirosis a zoonotic bacterial disease that attacks many species, including dogs. The infection can cause mild flu-like symptoms or it can cause a life-threatening disease.

Leptospirosis is typically treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early. That is, however, where the culprit lies—catching it early.

Most symptoms are quite generic, such as

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • depression
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • joint and muscle pain
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • excessive drinking
  • excessive urination
  • nasal discharge
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing

In advanced cases, your dog might become jaundiced as they suffer liver failure, and suffer kidney failure, low platelet count and abnormal bleeding.

Canine Leptospirosis Vaccination Decisions: Traveling and the Return of the Vaccination Dilemma

Leptospirosis vaccine

A vaccine against leptospirosis is available but it is a non-core vaccine. That means that your dog may or may not need it. It depends on their lifestyle and where they live or travel.

The best vaccine only covers four out of seven serovars and doesn’t provide “cross-protection.” The leptospirosis vaccine also has the highest rate of adverse reactions. Further, vaccination doesn’t always offer full protection.

Btw, the AAHA offers an online lifestyle-based vaccine calculator which might be worth checking out.

Along with lifestyle and geographical location, these are the two main aspects to consider:

  1. infected dogs can die of leptospirosis if it is not caught early enough
  2. a vaccinated dog can still develop the disease

Our decision process

When we lived in southern Ontario, we vaccinated against leptospirosis annually. It has always been a source of emotional turmoil for me. It’s an optional vaccine, which means my call whether or not our guys should get it.

Which is the lesser of the evils?

There were cases of dogs getting sick with it in the area and our dogs do spend a substantial amount of time outdoors, in the bush or on farmland. All of which hosts plenty of critters and wildlife.

That’s when we always ended up vaccinating.

When we moved, I discussed with our new vet whether or not we should continue vaccinating.

According to her, the serovars found in local wildlife are not covered by the vaccine. This means it doesn’t make sense to vaccinate. Vaccination against one doesn’t protect from another.

Our dilemma

I wasn’t completely sure whether I should be happy or concerned. I suppose this will always be a dilemma for me, one way or another. Because I am a worrywart, I was concerned. But we didn’t vaccinate. It would have made any sense. Though Jasmine’s vet said that even if it is true about the local serovars, what if we traveled?

Well, we don’t travel. At least we didn’t. At the end of April, though, we’ll be all going South for a couple of weeks.

When you travel, you want to have your vaccinations covered, right?

To be honest, it wouldn’t have even entered my mind if it wasn’t for a question on my FB group, asking about lepto vaccination. I answered the question and suddenly things clicked in my head. We ARE going to be traveling. We are going to be traveling to an area where we know the serovars covered by the vaccine are present.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Should we vaccinate then?

As much as I don’t like the idea, my gut was telling me to do so. To gather more intel I called a local vet at the area where we’ll be staying, asking about what their situation and their recommendations are. They do vaccinate dogs at risk, meaning dogs spending time in the woods and other places frequented with wildlife. Which is what our guys will be doing.

I then called our vet to see what they think. Turns out they are starting to vaccinate more as well. I guess the serovar situation has changed.

Here is the thing.

Leptospirosis should be perfectly treatable with antibiotics. 

If caught and diagnosed early. But that part is pretty tricky, in spite of the spiffy fast test available at IDEXX Laboratories. Before one can run the test, they have to know something is wrong and have the right suspicion. And that’s where the culprit lies.

The vaccine has a relatively high risk of adverse reactions.

Though that seems to be the case mostly in small dogs. Our guys are not small. They had this vaccine before without a problem. But, of course, there is never a problem until there is.

The vaccine is not all that effective.

It doesn’t really last even the one full year and the effectiveness is questionable. The fact that a friend’s vaccinated dog died of leptospirosis last year doesn’t make the decision any easier. And it was a serovar included in the vaccine. And the dog never went anywhere other than the yard. But, of course, wild critters don’t care about yards and fences and boundaries.

In the end, I figured that to vaccinate was the lesser of the evils after all.

We haven’t traveled since and I am not vaccinating. I am keeping updated on local serovars, though. If the status quo changes, so might my decision.

Related articles:
Your Dog And Leptospirosis
Angry Vet On Leptospirosis
Acute Kidney Failure in Dogs: Blitzen’s Tragic Story. What Would You Do If It Was Your Dog?

Further reading:
Leptospirosis in Dogs

Categories: ConditionsDog careDog health advocacyInfectionsLeptospirosisOver-vaccinationVaccination

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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