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Leptospirosis Vaccine Protection And Dogs: What You Need To Know

dog-swimmingEarlier this week, we received some feedback on one of our articles on leptospirosis, written by Dr Patricia Jordan. This came in from a concerned pet owner, who wrote:

I find statement #1 [the disease is treatable] from 2010 Dogs Naturally magazine alarmingly misleading.  Our 1 yr old german shepherd did not have the leptospirosis vaccination and was subsequently exposed to a carrier dog.  She was absolutely in top form and condition prior to exposure.  She was the picture of health, but she became critically ill after exposure despite intensive antibiotic and IV fluid therapy.  She went into acute renal failure and our choices were to extra put her down or try hemodialysis.   We opted for dialysis at UC Davis and she did pull through.  I will never allow a dog in my care to risk contracting lepto again and we will be getting the lepto vaccine for our dogs.  For other pet owners to read your statements seems very misleading having lived through the experience we have.

While Dr Jordan and Dogs Naturally certainly sympathize with this pet owner, her response to her sick dog is one that we are all tempted to make. It’s understandable that we all want to protect our dogs from severe illness but in the case of lepto, vaccination may not be the solution.

Based on serologic data, the main lepto serovars causing disease in dogs include L. pomona, L. grippotyphosa, occasionally L. autumnalis and L.bratislava, and rarely, L. canicola, L. hardjo, and L. icterohaemorrhagiae. What most people don’t know is that the lepto vaccine only protects dogs against the main two servers for about two weeks, if at all. Andre-Fontaine G, Branger C, Gray AW, et al. Comparison of the efficacy of three commercial bacterins in preventing canine leptospirosis. Vet Rec 153:165-169, 2003.

Dr Stephen Barr of Cornell University states: “most [vaccines] claim year efficacy except those subunit vaccines covering L. pomona and L. grippotyphosa (protect for 2 to 2½ weeks post-booster)”

This means that your dog has to be vaccinated twice for the lepto vaccine to protect against the primary two serovars and that protection only lasts for about two weeks. To be truly and fully protected against lepto for a one year period, this would require up to 26 vaccinations. Is this a risk worth taking?

Before you answer that, please read this response from Dr Patricia Jordan:

“If your dog is vaccinated for lepto, the antigens in the vaccines do the same harm to the immune system as possibly a natural infection. There have been cases of dogs having to go through dialysis also to save them and no Leptospira were found. The reason? The damage from the antigens in the vaccinations are just as capable as causing the disease pathology! Vaccinating your dog can also destroy the kidney in 48 hours and in some cases, cause untreatable dermatitis. The damage from lepto vaccination to your dog’s immune system also includes the associated risk of cancer from the adjuvant and the same adjuvant is associated with upregulation of IgE and the consequence includes allergies, asthma, atopy, anaphylaxis and death.”

There are definite risks to the lepto vaccine but the most compelling reason to steer well clear of it is the fact that even if your dog survives this dangerous vaccine without any apparent short term damage, he is only protected for a couple of weeks for the serovars that are most likely to cause harm. We wish we could say that there was an effective solution to protecting your pets from lepto but vaccination certainly isn’t the panacea that many vets claim.

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17 Responses to Leptospirosis Vaccine Protection And Dogs: What You Need To Know

  1. Tina

    My 15 yr old brittany received his leptospirosis in June. He hasn’t been the same since. He has been lethargic, very weak, has a lack of appetite and experiences shudders/small shocks. Its like he is being momentarily shocked. And, he had a seizure that lasted about 5 seconds. He had blood tests and x-rays with nothing abnormal other than anemia. The vet never mentioned the vaccine as possibly the cause of his symptoms. I was ready to take him for a CT scan for his head to see if he has a tumor. But, within the past week he has been eating again. He hasn’t had any more seizures but still has the momentary shock/shudder thing a few times a day. And, he is still weak. I am wondering if it is all due to the vaccine. He was fine before the vaccine and immediately started exhibiting symptoms after. Of course age is a factor but before this he was a happy, energetic walker.

    • Henri Coleman

      Hi Tina,

      I have a 3 month old Pomeranian. She was perfectly healthy and going 100 mph.
      After her vaccine on Monday, she has been extremely lethargic and could barely
      stand up. I spent $500 at the vet yesterday and everything checked out fine.
      I now know after reading about this Lepto Vaccination that the probable cause of
      this behavior is due to the vaccine.
      I am furious that the vet would administer this to my pet and not explain the possible
      consequences. Additionally, they never mentioned that the vaccination could be the
      Additionally, my dog is yelping periodically from the “shock” that you are describing.

      I hope that your dog is getting better with time.

      Henrietta Coleman

  2. Tonda

    Please, Please do not get your dog vaccinated with the Lepto vaccine. My vet told me it was necessary and I had to put my precious corgi, best friend and companion down yesterday one month from the time of his vaccination. I am devastated. We did everything that we could to save him and now he is gone and we have several thousands of dollars in vet bills. My Levi was completely healthy before his vaccine and within 1 week afterwards was deathly sick. If you love your pet it is not worth the risk. I since have found out that there is a class action lawsuit against this vaccine.

    • ed w. bankston

      How and where do I find information about the class action lawsuit?

      • Lori Bolte

        Please post the info. I unfortunately had my dog vaccinated yesterday not knowing he was receiving this particular vaccine, but thought it was just the normal routine vaccines..parvo, distemper..bordatella and did not know any of the side effects, or risks of this vaccine until now. My Denali is not the same at all. He doesn’t even wag his tail anymore and I’m so afraid of what is to come. I’ve never heard of this vaccine and have had dogs all my life….I pray this change is only temporary because if it isn’t this class action lawsuit needs to be posted to everyone going in to vaccinate their dog!

    • Marilyn

      We, too, lost our perfectly healthy 5yo Foxhound one month after her vaccine. I have video of her playing with my other dogs and a few weeks later was literally on her death bed.

  3. jennifer

    Oh my gosh, DO NOT GET THE LEPTO VACCINE! I just adopted a 10-12 month old puppy from a shelter here in Michigan. He came from a mill in Tenessee. I got him in late May 2013. Took him to the vet the day after I got him and he was so sick, typical kennel cough, parasites, infection where he was neutered, abscessed teeth where 2 baby teeth were pulled, and he was about 8lbs underweight, so for a 24 lb dog that was a lot. It took 2 weeks but I nursed him back to health, got his weight up to a perfect 30lbs, teeth healed, infection healed, parasites gone with meds, and antibiotics for the infections. Lots of good nutrition, love, and exercise. He was doing wonderfully. Just this past Monday June 17 I took him for a CHECK UP after finishing his medication a week prior just to check his weight and all other areas that were an issue. Everything was fine, he was in perfect health, a bouncy funny energetic puppy that would run and play at the dog park for up to 4 hours a day! During that check up visit the vet suggested the lepto vaccine, I didn’t know anything about it, the vet said it has always been given before but is just broken up into a separate vaccine now, that most dogs are getting it. No one told me of its risks, why it was necessary, that it is a dangerous vaccine, etc. The next day after the vaccine my poor little puppy had no energy whatsoever, sleeping all the time, hardly eating or drinking, no interest in playing except for short spurts of a few minutes and then would collapse from fatigue. Took him to the vet on Wednesday 2 days after the shot and he had a temp of 103.5, which is high for a dog even, and was told that his body’s immune system is on overdrive attacking the lepto vaccine. She then went on to tell me that many dogs do not respond well to this vaccine and have gotten really sick or worse. (mind you this was a different vet but the same vet hospital I go to). She prescribed my dog a steriod to help calm his symptoms down until his body stops reacting badly to first dose of the vaccine. He is on day 5 of the steriod and still not himself, not even close. He has no energy, tired all day and night, he is eating though and drinking some but that could be a side effect from the steriod. I plan to call the vet again and see how long before he stops having this reaction to the lepto and hopefully nothing worse happens to him. I have read horror stories online about the vaccines side effects. I feel terrible for my poor puppy and just want him to feel better and be his energetic and bouncy self again. He is so sad and depressed and tired. My POOR PUPPY!

  4. julie

    My puppy was recently (yesterday) giving the lepto vaccine. Being a first time puppy owner I unfortunately assumed it was routine. I admit I should of have asked or researched it first, but at the same time trusted the vet. I will absolutely never recommend anyone receiving the lepto vacc. Our vet did not fully explain that it wasn’t required or the deadly side effects. My dog went into shock and nearly didn’t make it. I am so thankful that someone was watching over her or else we would of have lost her yesterday. If you are going to administer this vaccine to your pet please be careful.

    • julie

      *Also, forgot to mention.. I have spoken with numerous dog owner’s within the last day who have never even heard of this vaccination. One has a pond in the backyard and the second has a creek. Both have had numerous pets throughout their lives as well. Goes to show you how unnecessary it really is.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      Julie, I hope your little your little girl. Please consider looking for a holistic vet – theavh.org is a great place to start!

  5. Carole

    I’m sorry, I forgot to add that all 3 dogs had a different, or multiple, strains of Leptospira. ALL different.

  6. Carole

    Unfortunately I’ve had 3 dogs come down with Lepto all at different times. We live on a farm in Virginia, next to the National Forest and have a lot of deer on our property. We also have mice, from time to time, around our barn and feed area.
    Our 1st dog went to Virginia Tech Veterinary Teaching Hospital and had to be euthanized because of renal failure and we couldn’t afford dialysis. With the next two I immediately recognized the symtoms and started them on a treatment. Believe me I’ve thought long and hard about this vaccination and have decided not to give it to any of my dogs. The reason is that there is not a vaccination that will cover all the strains. And in Virginia it also takes about a week to get the blood results back because it goes to the state lab to be tested…..in line with cows, sheep, hogs, etc.
    I’m only saying that I feel there are more risks to having this vaccination and it simply doesn’t cover enough of the Leptospira.

  7. Lucy

    Actually, the comment about 2 weeks immunity only applies to subunit vaccines. Most commercial lepto vaccines are killed bacterins.

    • D

      So how long does the killed bacterins version provide protection? I really hate it when incomplete information is given. It just muddies the waters for pet owners

      • Dogs Naturally Magazine

        There is still considerable controversy about the efficacy of some vaccines with little data. Some vaccines show efficacy out to a year post-booster; others are ineffective after 7 weeks post booster. The other confound is that with bacterin vaccines, antibody levels aren’t terribly predictive of protection: antibody protection does not equal immunity. So the issue is that nobody really knows the DOI of bacterin vaccines

        • Lehman

          Except they do for rabies through challenge studies. I guess challenge studies haven’t been done for Lepto?

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