By: Dr. Heather Lineaweaver, Associate Veterinarian for Humane Veterinary Hospitals
Most dog owners are aware of the core vaccines recommended for all dogs – Rabies and DHPP, which protects against distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. Lifestyle/non-core vaccines are those that are recommended based on your dog’s individual risk factors. How much time they spend outdoors, their exposure to other dogs or wildlife, their activities, and where you live help determine which of these vaccines may benefit your dog. Examples of lifestyle vaccines include leptospirosis, lyme, bordetella (kennel cough), and canine influenza. The focus of this article will be leptospirosis and its risk factors.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can occur in a wide variety of mammals, including humans. After infection, the bacteria spreads to multiple organs, but the liver and kidneys are typically the most severely affected. Because the bacteria like to live and colonize within the kidneys, urine is the prime avenue for the spread of infection. Dogs become infected through exposure to the urine of affected wildlife. This exposure can occur by drinking standing water and eating or licking contaminated grass or other substances. The bacteria can also enter the body through damaged skin. Not all dogs that are exposed will develop infection, but those that do are at risk for liver and kidney failure. Permanent organ dysfunction is common, even in dogs that have been successfully treated. While it’s not common, leptospirosis is a serious and potentially fatal illness. It is important to note that it is also zoonotic, meaning that it can be spread to humans, and owners of infected dogs are at risk of contracting it via contact with their dog’s urine.
At-risk dogs should be vaccinated to protect both them and the humans they live with. Risk factors include living in a rural or suburban setting, hiking or spending significant time outdoors, access to standing water, or living in an area prone to flooding. Dogs in urban areas are less at risk, although living in an older house where they may have access to mice can increase this risk. The vaccine provides protection against the four most common strains of leptospirosis. Infection with the less common strains is possible but rare. Dogs initially receive a series of two vaccines given 2-4 weeks apart. After that, they must have a booster yearly to maintain protection. If your dog has any of the above risk factors, be sure to discuss starting the vaccine at your next veterinary visit.