PetMeds® Leptospirosis in Dogs

One of the most widely publicized emerging diseases in veterinary medicine is the infectious bacterial disease called leptospirosis in dogs. One of the reasons for this intense interest in this disease is that this condition is what is known as a zoonotic disease, which means that it potentially can be transmitted from pets to people. While often acquired from contact with urine of local small mammalian wild life, most dogs that are exposed to leptospirosis show very little symptoms. An overactive immune system can increase a dog's risk of developing leptospirosis

A small percentage of dogs can develop symptoms of general illness, including fever, lethargy, and vomiting, as well as acute or sudden liver or kidney failure. With early detection, most patients survive with aggressive treatment with antibiotics such as Penicillin and Doxycycline. Like its close relative Borrelia Burgdorferi, a causative agent of Lyme disease, it is now believed that a patient’s overactive immune response (i.e autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own self) is what leads to clinical symptoms in those select patients who do in fact develop illness.  Because of the potential contagiousness of this disease to people, there has been a big push by many veterinarians to vaccinate dogs for this disease. And while the newer vaccines are claimed to safer and protect against the most relevant strains of this bacteria that cause clinical disease in dogs, these vaccines are still amongst the most likely shots  to cause acute and/or chronic immune reactions in our pets in my opinion and experience.

Dr. Ron Schultz, DVM and one of the leading veterinary vaccine experts and immunologists in the country, has often called the emerging fear surrounding leptospirosis, “leptomania.” He has also considered his own state of Wisconsin, to be a hot bed for this disease,  but Dr. Schultz does not recommend the vaccination. The argument of the potential spread of this disease to humans in pushing the vaccination falls short when one considers that even in vaccinated dogs, which show no clinical signs of illness, still shed bacteria in their urine.  And while many of the vaccine companies and the vets they have on their pay rolls are pushing more and more of this vaccination on the public, the incidence of this disease has not truly increased in recent years. And as mentioned here, vaccination can even make pets more of a risk to the public, due to the shedding of the bacteria in dogs’ urine who have no symptoms that have been vaccinated. I have also seen many patients develop autoimmune diseases, as well as kidney or liver failure shortly after or in the months following leptospirosis vaccination.

I have also seen many pets develop chronic skin allergies shortly after receiving this vaccination. Immunity, if any is achieved, is very short lived.  Given the potential risks of vaccination and the unlikelihood of clinical infection in most pets, this is a disease that can be most accurately be labeled as leptomania, and in particularly small breed dogs, I would emphatically avoid this vaccination if at all possible.

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  1. Good to know that the vaccination is not worth it. They should warn you beforehand, if it’s so hard on the pooch.

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 29, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Vaccinations are a controversial topic in veterinary medicine. Much of the time veterinarians only get their information from the vaccine companies themselves, rather than through independent research or safety studies.

  3. Yeah, I could totally see that, Dr. Michael. I guess it’s similar to Doctor’s and drug companies. (Although, ‘m happy I’ve never been that big into vaccinations for my pack – it’s turned out pretty well for me.)

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 30, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I just talk from my experience of almost 20 years.

  5. Seeing that this was posted in 2010, are your thoughts still strong on the vaccination? We live in northern Wisconsin and end of December our dog contracted this, she spent 3 nights at the U of MN and now we are in the beginning stages of treatment.

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