Last fall, one of our friend’s dogs – Jeffie – died from leptospirosis (lepto for short). He got it from the back yard and died suddenly.
Jeffie’s owner starting educating people about lepto and get the word out about the risk.
I wondered, “Does my dog need the lepto vaccine?”.
UPDATED: December 12, 2022
I got curious and asked my vet about the vaccination.
She shrugged it off and said dogs don’t really need it in Washington State (where we live) unless they hike.
Of course, in my head, I was like, “Don’t they know who we are??” Ha, ha.
I kindly informed her that’s definitely us and she said I should get the lepto vaccine for my Dachshunds Chester and Gretel then.
I mentioned it to our Facebook community and it turns out there can be leptospirosis vaccine reactions in Dachshunds.
Since Chester survived 14 years with no vaccine, I felt like I had some time to wait and research.
This is what I learned over the last year.
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis – or Lepto for short – is a bacterial disease that results when microscopic bacteria (Leptospira interrogans to be specific) enter your dog’s bloodstream.
Lepto is carried in the urine of certain wild and domestic animals and can be found in the woods, rural areas, or in the City.
The disease is acquired when your dog is exposed to infected urine, typically through water sources or within moist soil.
Once inside the body, these tiny bacteria can reproduce in the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, eyes, and reproductive system.
This bacterium is a mean, lean, reproducing machine, and can make your dog seriously sick if not caught in the early stages.
The good news: there’s a good chance (not guaranteed, however) that you will see symptoms that can serve as a red flag that your pup needs veterinarian attention.
The bad news: they’re relatively non-specific, and it CAN be difficult to diagnose the disease.
Nonetheless, here’s a general list of symptoms to look for according to the CDC:
What Are the Risks of the Leptospirosis Vaccine?
Leptospirosis is one of those diseases that isn’t super common and more often than not doesn’t result in death…but it could.
Dr. Pedro Diniz, a veterinarian and professor at Western University of Health Sciences, says,
“Despite advances in prevention, the leptospirosis disease is not only widespread but growing within the US canine population.
The multitude of clinical signs and lack of an accurate in-clinic diagnostic tool make early diagnosis of this disease a great challenge.
As a consequence, 1 in 5 dogs die because of complications associated with the infection.”
So how seriously you choose to take it is going to be a case by case situation depending on you, as the owner, and your pet’s lifestyle.
Here are a few things to consider if you’re trying to decide whether you should give your dog the lepto vaccine or not:
The riks of leptospirosis in your state
While leptospirosis exists worldwide, it is most commonly found in warm, tropical areas, as well as areas with heavy rainfall and frequent flooding.
Yep, that means that Washington State, our beloved rainy home, has a relatively high incidence rate of canine leptospirosis compared to many other states in the U.S.
If your state’s climate is warm or temperate, and rain or high humidity is common, your area could have a higher risk for leptospirosis (it’s always good to research your specific area).
Here is a leptospirosis risk map aggregated from data over several years to give you the idea of the riks in your own state.
If the climate where you live is changing
Even within Washington State, the incidence rate of canine lepto cases has steadily increased over the last ten years, specifically in Western Washington.
From a global perspective, this rise in cases is believed to be the result of climate change (which has consequently resulted in increased flooding), as well as deforestation and urban development, which is bringing infected wildlife closer and closer to our front doors.
If the area you live in is warmer and wetter than it used to be, leptospirosis cases may be on the rise.
Do You (the Human) Have a Compromised Immune System?
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can be spread from animals to humans.
Yep, that means that you, too, could be at risk of contracting the bacteria through your dog’s urine.
That being said, the likelihood of a person catching the disease directly from his/her dog is slim…. unless the person has a compromised immune system.
Then the risk may be higher.
More often than not, leptospirosis in humans is acquired through infected drinking water or handling soil with an opened wound.
Still, it’s something to consider, especially if you have little kids.
Are You Willing to Take the Risk With Your Dog?
If your unvaccinated dog does become infected with leptospirosis, there is hope for recovery.
I mention this because, if you feel that your dog is at relatively low risk of coming in contact with the disease, and you decide the vaccine is not for you, yet by some random stroke of misfortune your pup falls ill, it’s not necessarily a death sentence.
For starters, it’s possible your dog’s immune system could fight off the disease on its own.
Because the symptoms are so non-descript, and potentially subtle, you could not be alarmed enough to take your dog to the vet.
It is possible that they could just “get over it” without medical intervention.
Unfortunately though, the kidneys are typically compromised after so letting them fight it on their own is not the best course of action.
In the more likely situation that your dog shows visible symptoms of lepto, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics for at least four weeks.
When treated early, the chances of recovery are relatively high.
Sounds Like My Dog Could Be At Risk But Is The Leptospirosis Vaccine Necessary?
Cue the ongoing debate over whether or not the lepto vaccine is necessary, safe, or even effective.
If you research this topic, you’ll find a wide array of opinions on the subject.
Some veterinarians will swear against it, and other veterinarians will strongly recommend it.
Somewhat maddening, I know.
The biggest cause for divided opinion is credited to the adverse side effects that dogs can experience when administered the vaccine.
Typical adverse reactions to the lepto vaccine include:
- The formation of tumors (in extreme cases)
- Anaphylactic shock (in extreme cases)
- Death (in extreme cases)
In addition, bacterin vaccines don’t prevent infection entirely. Rather, they decrease the severity of symptoms.
That’s definitely better than nothing, but it has raised the question from many pet owners on whether it’s really worth it.
Even more notable, it’s been found that Dachshunds are the most likely dog breed to experience adverse reactions to the leptospirosis vaccine (Pugs, Boston Terriers, Miniature Pinschers, and Chihuahuas following close behind.)
This is in large part because vaccines are prescribed on a “one size fits all” basis, putting smaller pups at a higher risk of experiencing an allergic reaction than a dog five times their size.
Other factors that can have an effect on reactions to the vaccine are:
- Purebred status
- Underlying health conditions
- Whether your dog is neutered/spayed.
While it’s just as important to be educated on what could go wrong, it’s also important to understand that extreme reactions are relatively rare, and ALL vaccines pose the risk of adverse reactions.
A study done in 2005 (published in JAVMA, the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association in October, 2005) reported on data taken from over three million vaccine doses, and found that the lepto vaccine, in combination with DAPP, had an adverse reaction less than 3% of the time (a percentage no different than coronavirus or rabies vaccinations.)
How to Minimize or Prevent Adverse Leptospirosis Vaccine Reactions
One way to prevent negative lepto vaccine reactions from happening is by spacing out the vaccinations.
It’s been found that administering three or more vaccines during one veterinarian visit can increase the risk of a negative reaction by 50%.
Some veternarians will prescribe or administer antihistamines like Benadry as a precaution or if a dog had a negative reaction to the lepto vaccine before.
So at this point you may be somewhat torn on what to do.
Here’s MY opinion: do your research, because no two dogs are the same, and PLEASE talk to your trusted vet.
As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, the decision comes down to you and your vet’s personal and professional discretion. There is no right or wrong answer.
So, What Did I Decide for My Dachshunds?
I weighed the risks of the lepto vaccine for my Dachshunds vs. the benefits and I’m still not sure if it’s necessary for my dogs to get it.
When it comes to Chester, I’ve decided I’m not going to give him the lepto vaccine.
I feel like the vaccine risk for him is high because:
- He’s a Dachshund and it’s known to affect them worse than other breeds and
- He’s 14 years old. I feel like there is more risk for vaccines to do harm to older dogs.
The truth is, he’s never been one to drink out of streams or puddles anyway.
He’s also not a digger so the likelihood of him ingesting dirt is low.
He’s been hiking for most of his 14 years without getting sick so it doesn’t feel very urgent to me.
Gretel is a bit of a different story.
She is only 7. She has a whole lot of years ahead of her… which means many more years to possibly get sick from something.
If you had asked me last year, I probably would have been no more concerned for her than I was for Chester though. Up until this summer, she was never one to drink out of streams or puddles either.
For some reason, she started this year. She’s been stopping to drink out of streams on trails.
What really freaks me out is she’ll sneak a drink from a dirty puddle in the city! It’s like she just discovered she could do that.
She also eats dirt in our back yard. I think she’s going for the worms in our dark, marshy soil but she literally eats holes through the grass into the dirt.
All of that puts her at higher risk of contracting leptospirosis.
Since the study I mentioned above found that an adverse reaction occurred in less than 3% of dogs vaccinated for Lepto, I feel like the risk of her getting it outweighs the risk of the vaccination making her sick.
However, the vaccine does not offer total protection from a dog contracting leptospirosis.
I definitely plan to talk with my vet about giving her the vaccine but still haven’t given her the vaccine to date.
I’ve thought about it long and hard and decided that’s what’s best for MY pups.
If you decide differently and don’t think your dog is a high-risk case, or don’t want to take your chances with the vaccine, that’s okay too!
Either way, I encourage everyone to visit the site LeptoInfo.com to participate in an online risk assessment and to learn more about the prevalence of the disease in your geographic area.
Has your dog had the lepto vaccine?
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.