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The Lepto Vaccine: Why Vets Give It Yearly

lepto vaccineLeptospirosis is feared by many veterinarians because it can cause severe kidney or liver disease in its pet victims. It’s double feared because it’s a zoonotic disease; in other words, you can get it too. Many vets use this fact to justify the administration of this supposedly protective vaccine. But a good vaccine should be both safe and effective. Let’s examine whether or not the yearly lepto vaccination is either.

The Core Vaccines

One of the most commonly administered vaccines, the distemper/parvo combination (often combined with adenovirus), has been dubbed a core vaccine by the American Veterinary Medical Association. For decades, this vaccine had been administered annually by most veterinarians.

But due to decades of research and recent consumer pressure, the AVMA has recently adopted guidelines that decrease the recommended frequency of the core vaccines to every three years or more. This is a step in the right direction for pets and their guardians, but it’s caused some veterinarians to worry about the loss of income when moving from annual to triennial vaccination.

Enter Lepto

Because annual vaccination has been pushed for many years, pet guardians have come to believe the only reason to take their pets to the vet annually is for vaccination. Veterinary visits are in decline and when a pet guardian learns they don’t need to vaccinate as frequently, vet visits drop.

So, what is a vet to do when their income from annual visits goes down? Many began promoting a separate leptospirosis component to the core vaccines as the new annual vaccine.

But according to the AVMA, leptospirosis isn’t a core vaccine. This means it’s not recommended for all dogs in all communities. Whether or not this vaccine is important for your dog is left completely up to the discretion of your vet.

In my prior, non-holistic practice, I saw that the lepto component cause the most serious reactions in my patients. The typical reactions not only included vomiting or diarrhea, but anaphylaxis with shock or death and serious immune-mediated diseases, which may manifest as bleeding disorders.

I haven’t used the lepto vaccine in my holistic practice for almost ten years. Reactions have been virtually eliminated and the incidence of lepto in my patients is extremely rare. The cases we’ve seen have come in from outside the regular practice clientele. I believe our general clientele who provide holistic care and natural nutrition to their pets have given me a patient base of more naturally resistant dogs with stronger constitutions!

A pet guardian must make a well-informed decision on the benefits and risks of any vaccine. Obviously, if the risk is very small and the benefit is a certainty of protection, a loving pet guardian would be likely to consider vaccination. Nobody wants their pet to suffer from preventable kidney or liver disease. But can the lepto vaccine prevent it?

Why Lepto Isn’t A Core Vaccine

A leptospira is technically a spirochete, a corkscrew shaped bacterium; it’s not a virus like parvo or distemper. So the injection given to prevent an infection with this organism is not really a vaccine, but rather a bacterin.

Unlike viral vaccination, bacterin vaccines like lepto don’t prevent infection; they can only decrease the severity of symptoms. Unlike many other vaccines, the bacterin vaccine can be shed in the environment, potentially infecting your dog, other dogs, wildlife and you.

So, what exactly is the benefit of the lepto vaccine?

Not only is infection not prevented, but because symptoms are less severe, you may not notice that your pet is very ill. You might think your pet has some gastrointestinal upset which will pass. Instead of seeking veterinary care early on in the disease process, the infection will brew, causing permanent bodily harm. Without early detection, leptospirosis is very difficult to treat!

Because the manufacturer of the lepto vaccine has demonstrated that it doesn’t last any longer than one year, it’s been dubbed an annual vaccine. So this vaccine potentially solves the problem of how a vet once more gets his patients in every year.

In reality however, this vaccine doesn’t even last a year. A dog who is vaccinated with this vaccine receives well less than one year of inadequate protection but is placed at great risk for vaccine-related illness.

Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision on whether the lepto vaccine is needed for your dog. And remember, only the rabies vaccine is required by law in the US and Canada (although not in some lucky provinces) But that’s a topic for another time!

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16 Responses to The Lepto Vaccine: Why Vets Give It Yearly

  1. Jayne December 29, 2013 at 2:23 PM #

    We recently had our dog vaccinated with the Nobivac l4 (lepto4 vaccine). Immediately after the vaccine, had a severe reaction in the form of a seizure before we left the vets. Had further seizures as a result of the initial reaction to vaccine which have led to pulmonary edema fluid in the lungs, which is potentially life threatening. No history at all of ill health prior to vaccine. I seriously encourage people to consider if they really need to give their pets this vaccine. I would hate for anymore pets to go through the distress we are experiencing. Anyone else experienced this or similar.

  2. Dr. Jodie Gruenstern October 26, 2013 at 11:19 PM #

    Ironically, a recent blogvertisement by a vaccine manufacturer in an attempt to support its lepto vaccine, included the following statements which make the point made exactly in my article…
    ” Pet vaccinations confer immunity against the pathogens they are designed for, but there are many variants of pathogens, writes veterinarian Karen Joy Goldenberg, and it’s impossible to create a vaccine that protects against them all. In the case of leptospirosis, there are some 250 strains of the pathogen… The Gazette (Montreal) (tiered subscription model)/K.J. Goldenberg – DMV blog (9/24)
    Canine leptospirosis deaths prompt warning in Hong Kong
    Ten dogs in Hong Kong died after contracting leptospirosis, a zoonotic bacterial infection that causes dehydration, loss of appetite and often deadly kidney failure in dogs and people. Veterinarian Tony Matthews, who treated some of the ill dogs, said the strain involved is particularly serious and the current vaccine does not appear to be providing protection. South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) (free registration) (9/15)

  3. Sandeep October 13, 2013 at 6:24 AM #

    I have a question folks. My dog is around 13 to 14 years old sterilised female. She was a stray and lived around my house for many years before becoming a complete house dog & getting adopted by me two years ago. She was spayed in 2002 & got her her first Rabies vaccine. She was re-vaccinated for Rabies a year later and in 2007 for all the diseases i.e she received Rabies plus a 5 in 1 vaccine ( Lepto, Distemper /Parvo ). Subsequently on learning more about vaccines and losing my dog in 2010 to Bone cancer I became more aware and anti-over vaccination. Last year in 2012 she happened to be bitten by a neighbour’s dog so had to be given three Anti- Rabies shots as per the advice of my vet. Now this past Tuesday ( Oct 8th ) I was at the vets with my dog for treatment of low-RBC as she was diagnosed with a haemoglobin of 8.2, when they received a stray dog with Parvo in their OPD & this dog passed away very soon. Now the O.P.D is seperate from the clinic but incidentally I was present there when this all happened. This incident has me worried though the vet assured me that my dog is old and chances of her contracting the disease are less. This place also has a shelter & a hospital for strays & this is where I always sent her before whenever she required treatment as a stray. I came back home & read about Parvo on the net & then washed my clothes, bleached my shoes, car mats & washed the collar & leash of my dog. Now perhaps this is difficult to predict but I wonder the obvious – How much immunity does my dog have to fight off this thing, from the one vaccination she received in her lifetime ? I have been staying away from vaccinations as a concious decision because of their ill effects.& because I read more & more that once in a lifetime vaccination is probably enough ( except Rabies which is mandatory ) though this incident has me on a re-think. Also availability of individual vaccines is a problem & a rarity in itself so I decided against re-vaccination & I never saw Parvo around me. This is very long but I just wanted to put things in perspective by giving history.

  4. Cristina October 6, 2013 at 2:37 PM #

    We gave our pups the lepto vaccine and both had serious auto-immune reactions. One went into liver and kidney failure and the other developed poly arthritis a few weeks later. To date my vet bills are over 15000. Zoetis refuses any responsibility and I no longer use the vet that got my pups sick. I wish I had done more research beforehand but hopefully this might prevent someone else’s dogs getting very sick.

  5. Isabeau October 4, 2013 at 9:07 PM #

    Is there research that proves that the vaccine is actually safe for a dog or puppy? I know a pet owner that had her dog’s heart stop for five minutes after receiving the five in one vaccine. The Leptospirosis vaccine was part of that five in one vaccine. That pet owner does not believe that Leptospirosis is safe for dogs. Based on her personal story I am scarred of having my dogs vaccinated with it.

  6. tiffany October 4, 2013 at 3:24 PM #

    So what happens when a dog doesn’t get the vaccine, contracts lepto and gives it to their owner, who then dies of kidney failure? My four pound yorkie has never had a problem with her lepto vaccine, and even if she did I’d rather give her benadryl than have her on iv fluids for kidney failure and liver failure. Just my two cents.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine October 5, 2013 at 8:37 AM #

      I guess the same thing as when the dog IS vaccinated for lepto and sheds the disease in his urine. So your choice is to have him potentially shed it once because he is infected or shed it every single year because you are vaccinating for it.

  7. Mary Dee October 4, 2013 at 1:11 PM #

    I have recently joined DNM and am so confused. I will be getting a pup soon. What if any vacs should I initially give to this pup. I know Parvovirus is a problem for pups and rabies is required by our state, GA. When is the best age to give the vaccines. I know that if I do it early, they have to have a couple of rounds. Please advise.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine October 5, 2013 at 8:38 AM #

      Mary Dee, you need our Puppy Vaccination Guide! Please email us at info@dogsnaturallymagazine.com and we’ll forward a copy to you!

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern October 6, 2013 at 1:24 AM #

      More than ten years ago, I began following Dr. Ron Schultz’s (world-reknown immunologist) protocol in my holistic practice. It has served us all well and safely. We vaccinate pups at 8 and 12 weeks with DHPP. We do a titre test at 16 to 18 weeks to check the distemper and parvo levels. If they are protective we vaccinate for rabies between 4 and 6 months. We check another titre in one year and we repeat rabies at one year with a 3 year vaccine. For most dogs this likely affords life time protection. State laws can vary and titres can be re checked to verify. We do not give lepto in our practice. Dr. Schultz did participate in a parvo nosodes study where the parvo nosodes was ineffective. I do believe cellular immunity can afford additional protection, however, even when the humoral or antibody immune system is “measured’ to be inadequate. I respect those who do not vaccinate at all. Vaccinations should never be taken lightly. This can be a difficult decision. More info at: http://www.maddiesfund.org/Maddies_Institute/Webcasts/Saving_Lives_with_Antibody_Titer_Tests.html

      • Dogs Naturally Magazine October 6, 2013 at 8:42 AM #

        Hi Jodie
        I’d like to note two things. First, the nosode schedule is important, so many homeopaths take exception to this study, especially when the leptospirosis nosode has been so successful in Cuba. Second, the classical use of nosodes is to not use them for homeoprophylaxis but to give them at the first signs of symptoms. This is when nosodes really shine and I’ve witnessed my own puppy turn around completely within 12 hours of receiving the parvo nosode. He literally went from death’s door to eating and pooping normally. Or course, we have to defend homeopathy here but we agree that the decision of whether to vaccinate or not, and how often, should be an individual choice because it is the pet owner who must deal with the consequences either way. Thanks for your input!

        • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern October 6, 2013 at 9:54 AM #

          I agree with the classical use and validity of the use of homeopathics, but have always questioned them as a modality for “vaccination”. I thought it appropriate to bring up the parvo “study” in this realm, figuring readers particularly concerned about parvo should know in order to make informed choices. I was unaware of the lepto study in Cuba. Would love more info, perhaps that will be a safer route to go for lepto! Thank you for the clarification!

  8. Dr. Jodie Gruenstern October 4, 2013 at 9:39 AM #

    I have asked the companies to produce (unbiased) research which demonstrates that any of these vaccines actually prevent infection, prevent shedding and actually last for 12 months. I have not seen any such proof. “Immunity” and “protection” need to be clarified and also, weighed against risks.
    To my knowledge, there are no 12 month challenge studies which prove efficacy(that they work.) There is one challenge at 4 to 7 weeks post vaccine and I believe there may be a twelve week.
    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)”
    Vaccine “approvals” in this country is woefully inadequate. FDA lets you “claim’ a year even if you don’t prove it.

  9. Annemarie Rijnveld October 3, 2013 at 1:30 PM #

    Hello, Nobivac Lepto 4 provides immunity against serovars from the four key leptospirosis serogroups seen in Europe, it provides 12 months of protection against the virus.
    It prevents renal shedding of the infectious leptospires.

    The same goes for the Nobivac Lepto bivalent…

    I would like your opinion about these two vaccins..Tnx

    • TS Watson October 4, 2013 at 9:51 AM #

      I was a victim of the vet giving the lepto vaccine to my beloved corgi. Within 4 days he was deathly sick with auto immune hemolytic anemia. We got through this part and he was doing great fter spending $6000 at the vet hospital. Then within 4 weeks and he was bleeding internally from many of his organs and had to be put down. All this from just going to get his annual rabies shot in a otherwise very healthy dog. Heartbroken and after the fact, I have done much research to inform myself of vaccines. My vet did not inform me of any thing but said he had to be vaccinated for it due to all the rain we had during this summer. Over vaccination is a problem for dogs but $$$$$ for vets. Please stay informed. Now, with my new corgi, if my vet says he needs any other vaccination than rabies I wait, come home and research it and if I think it is necessary based on our lifestyle, I will return to the vet and get it. Otherwise I save my dogs life and money. I hope this helps someone else and they don’t become a victim of vet pressure!

    • Marg October 4, 2013 at 11:26 AM #

      I am convinced that the leptospirosis shot my dog received was the cause of his auto immune disease. He almost died and the past year has been a nightmare, both emotionally and financially in trying to get him stable again. I urge all dog owners to NEVER administer this vaccine as the risk is far greater than any reward. Always question your standard vet regarding any procedure, get a second opinion, if necessary, and seek a holistic vet to perform alternative methods of treatment. Please do not put your dog through what my poor Louie has had to endure.

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