Does Your Dog Need the Lepto Vaccine?

Summer is here!

Warm weather means fun in the sun, lots of time spent outside, and of course, swimming.

If your dogs are anything like mine, swimming is their favorite way to enjoy the warmer months. No matter where you live, there is somewhere for your dog to swim.

We don’t live near the ocean, but lakes and ponds are just as fun in the Midwest. Cooling off in the water can be one of the best ways to keep your dog safe and hydrated while spending time in the heat.

Even if your dog isn’t a fan of swimming, chances are that if they spend much time outdoors they will come across stagnant water.

Dogs who accompany their owners on hikes are likely to run into creeks, streams, and even puddles.

Did you know that harmful bacteria can be lurking in these water sources?

Chances are, you’ve heard of the Lepto vaccine. While it’s not a required vaccine, it can be essential for dogs with certain lifestyles.

Keep reading to learn more about the Lepto vaccine and how to decide if it’s right for your dog.

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Danger can lurk beneath the surface of even the most beautiful water.


What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease that dogs and other animals can contract from a number of outdoor sources.

The main cause of infection is through contact with the urine of other animals who have been infected. Wild animals that are commonly infected include:

  • Skunks
  • Rats
  • Feral cats
  • Stray dogs
  • Raccoons

In the United States, rats and domestic livestock are the biggest carriers of the bacteria.

Dogs are commonly affected because they swim and drink out of water sources that have been contaminated with urine.

Leptospirosis is caused by spirochete bacteria called Leptospira. There are at least 230 of these bacteria around the world.

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Going for a dip can be an excellent way to cool off in the midday heat.

Lepto in Dogs

Not all dogs who become exposed to the disease will become visibly ill. In fact, studies have found that 25 percent of dogs who have not received the Lepto vaccine had antibodies to the disease.

This means they were exposed to the bacteria and did not get sick. However, if your dog does become sick from the bacteria, they will need veterinary care.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis include but are not limited to:

  • Tiredness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urine production
  • Jaundice.

The disease may also affect your dog’s liver. The incubation period is about 4-12 days.

Puppies younger than 6 months who have not been vaccinated tend to get the sickest.

Your vet can diagnose Leptospirosis by taking urine and blood samples. Treatment includes antibiotics, which can both cure infection and prevent a dog from being a carrier of the bacteria.

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Playing in stagnant water can have serious consequences, especially for young puppies.

Preventing Leptospirosis

You can prevent Leptospirosis by preventing your dog from swimming in or drinking contaminated water.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. If your dog spends a lot of time in or around stagnant water, including puddles in the yard, consider getting the Lepto vaccine.

While not considered a core vaccine, the Lepto vaccine can bring you peace of mind while your dog enjoys a splash in the water.

It’s important to note that the vaccine will not last forever. It is considered to be of variable efficacy, meaning it is limited or short lasting.

Of course, even if your dog is vaccinated they could still become infected with Leptospirosis. As with most vaccines, if they do become infected after being vaccinated, the infection will be mild.

It is worth noting, if your dog is infected and has been vaccinated, they can become a carrier of the bacteria. If your dog is not spayed or neutered, being a carrier of the disease could lead to an increased frequency of stillbirths and reproductive issues. There have been some reports of reactions to the vaccine, though it is considered safe.

All vaccines come with this risk and it is up to you and your vet to decide if the reward of preventing the disease is worth the risk of any possible side effects.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that if your dog becomes infected, they can spread the disease to humans.

Take this into consideration as well. If your dog does become infected or is a carrier of the bacteria, you will need to take special precautions to prevent the spread of the disease to yourself and your family.

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Dogs don’t know any better than to drink the water they are playing in, even if it’s been contaminated.

Does Your Dog Need the Lepto Vaccine?

If your vet hasn’t talked to you about the Lepto vaccine, he or she may have evaluated your dog as a low risk based on your account of their lifestyle.

Nonetheless, as your dog’s parent, it’s your job to advocate for their best interests.

Being informed about potential illnesses and how to prevent them is one of the easiest ways to make sure your best friend lives a long, healthy life.

Your dog doesn’t have to swim in contaminated water to be exposed. Just like with humans, drinking unclean water can lead to problems for your dog.

If your furry friend is tempted to grab a quick drink from a natural outdoor water source, it can be hard to stop them. When dogs swim in stagnant water sources like ponds, they are likely to inhale the water.

Even if your dog doesn’t spend much time outdoors, they could be at risk.

The start and end of summer tend to bring summer storms and significant rainfall. This leads to an increase in puddles, which are breeding grounds for these bacteria. Our dogs don’t know any better and can’t understand that this water is unsafe to drink.

The Leptospira bacteria cannot tolerate cold temperatures, so your dog is at a much lower risk of contracting Leptospirosis in the winter.

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If your dog loves the water like mine, vaccinating against Lepto can give you peace of mind.

Making the Call

For me, the decision to get my dogs the Lepto vaccine was a no-brainer.

My poodles spend summer weekends in Midwest lakes and ponds. While my dogs haven’t had any issues with the vaccine, every dog is different.

If you are considering getting your dog vaccinated for Leptospirosis, talk to your veterinarian. He or she will be able to give you a personal evaluation based on your dog’s health, lifestyle, risk, and the occurrence of the disease in your local community.

Whether or not your dog needs the Lepto vaccine, stay cool and have a fun summer.

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