Leptospirosis 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.
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!