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I hear it time and again, “I do not want to vaccinate my dog [or puppy] for Leptospirosis because my breeder said not to.” I still have yet to meet or hear of a breeder that has any formal veterinary medical training, be that veterinarian or veterinary technician, but that it beside the point, as some pet owners view their breeder as some kind of expert whether I like it or not. Most pet owners I get through to as they ultimately take my advice and allow me to vaccinate their dog for Leptospirosis as I respectfully refute every one of the breeder’s reasons to decline the vaccine.
Since Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and liver injury, not only carries a mortality rate of 30% in infected dogs even with aggressive treatment but also has the potential to infect humans; I will happily give you the benefit of my exam room debunking of the most common breeder claims as to why dog owners should refuse the Leptospirosis vaccine. Below, you will see the breeder’s reasons in italics, followed by my answers in bold.
Leptospirosis is a dangerous vaccine that commonly causes bad reactions.
Quite to the contrary, Leptospirosis is actually one of the safest vaccines to administer with reactions to it very rare. In fact, for the past 15 years, we have enjoyed an era of vaccine technology that has made vaccine reactions as a whole very rare events. In my busy 3 doctor practice, for example, I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw an adverse vaccine reaction in a pet, Leptospirosis or otherwise.
Leptospirosis is so rare that it is something you really do not need to vaccinate for.
Wrong! According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are more that 1 million canine cases of canine Leptospirosis in the United Stated but likely far more than that because large number of cases are not likely getting reported. You may ask why the CDC so concerned about tracking a canine disease? Because as I eluded to earlier, humans can catch it. Leptospirosis can live for long periods of time outside a host in fresh water, contact with which can lead to infection.
Leptospirosis is really only a risk for outdoor dogs, hunting or sporting dogs in rural environments.
Given its affinity to live for long periods of time in standing fresh water, one would think that rural or forest environments would pose the highest risk, but the opposite is actually true. Rodents are asymptomatic carriers of the disease including rats, and where there are people, there tends to be lots of rats. Given all those rats spreading Leptospirosis via their urine into puddles that abound in temperate environments, we see the highest concentrations of Leptospirosis cases in urban and suburban areas. As such, the majority of cases that we see are not outdoor hunting and sporting dogs, but instead little sheltered and pampered lap dogs like small Terriers, Miniature Poodles, and small Spaniels. The latest death by Leptospirosis I was made aware of was a Welsh Corgi about a month ago.
This does not mean that you should not vaccine your rural hunting and sporting dogs for Leptospirosis. There are rats there too, as well as an abundance of the other common asymptomatic rodent carrier: squirrels.
The Leptospirosis vaccine does not really work
This one could not be further from the truth. The 4 serovar (sub-strain) Leptospirosis vaccine is very effective and disease in dogs kept current on it is very rare.
So there you have it dearest pet owners, straight from a guy who actually went to vet school and has practiced veterinary medicine for 17 years. Perhaps you may presume that I am a bit more qualified than a breeder to make vaccine recommendations? I hope?
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.