Leptospirosis vaccine: Every dog, every time?


Are today's veterinarians recommending leptospirosis vaccines for every canine patient? The answer is no, but, boy, are the numbers up. See if your hospital is keeping with the times ...

Once upon a time, veterinarians might have had a nuanced view about the need for leptospirosis vaccines for all canine patients. Why give a vaccine for something a dog just wouldn't be exposed to? But circumstances have changed: more exposure, changing climates, better vaccines.

While you likely don't make the decisions about when a vaccine is right in a medical case, you do help educate clients, watch for signs and prepare to talk at least a little about this significant risk and the important vaccine that helps. Here are three clinicians with different backgrounds say about making the right choice on leptospirosis vaccines for dogs. And don't miss the final takeaways for veterinary team members at the end!

Urban dogs that are too cool for school run into surprising vectors for leptospirosis, like lepto-carrying rats, and might have pet parents who are hesitant to vaccinate too frequently. (Shutterstock.com)The public-health veterinarian

"Leptospirosis is a vaccine-preventable disease, and the serovars are considered cross-protective. Because of recent outbreaks in urban areas such as Portland, Oregon, (think anti-vaxxers and hipsters with backyard chickens that attract lepto-carrying rats) and the zoonotic potential of the disease, Dr. Emilio DeBess' current recommendations are that all dogs should be vaccinated against leptospirosis. Period." - Sarah Wooten, DVM, writing about a CVC session taught by Ohio State Veterinarian Emilio DeBess (read the entire synopsis here)


We've seen some of the rivers, ponds and bogs hunting dogs go running into. You CANNOT tell us they don't want a pair of these swimmy goggles of their own. (Shutterstock.com)The specialty doctor

"My general thoughts are: If your canine patient population is at risk for leptospirosis, then the annual, four-serovar is recommended. This isn't just for hunting dogs that live in rural areas anymore. With the changing demographics of dogs at risk (e.g., small dogs, inner city, etc.), global warming, and lack of vaccination and protection in many dogs now, we are seeing increased prevalence of leptospirosis. "It's really important to discuss the risks with pet owners. As a criticalist, I don't 'do vaccines,' but even my dog is vaccinated for lepto; my dog is high-risk: loves to swim, in Minnesota by the Mississippi River, lives in the city and hikes with me a lot." - Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, at Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota


Some vets used to try to keep vaccine frequencies lower for small-breed dogs like Seamus the yorkie above (yes, we made up that name). But general-practice doctor Dr. Jeff Rothstein says that's less of a concern these days. (Shutterstockcom)The general-practice owner

"This isn't too nuanced of an answer. This is a contagious and potentially fatal disease prevalent in most parts of this country. We used to hesitate in the past (sometimes) to give this vaccine in small breed dogs, because they seemed to be somewhat reactive to the vaccine. Things have changed over the last five or so years. Leptospirosis is now more prevalent, and vaccines are safer. Bottom line, you always want to vaccinate based on pet lifestyle, but there's no other way than to say this is a core vaccine for just about all dogs." - Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA, at Progressive Pet Animals Hospitals in Michigan

That's Dr. Rothstein's bottom line. Our bottom line?

If you're a receptionist, think twice before downplaying the importance of any vaccine when a client asks you if it's really necessary. We know there's been quite a few years of vaccine skepticism in human medicine, but don't let that cloud your opinion when it comes to other species. Trust the veterinarians on this.

If you're a technician, and you didn't get on the leptospirosis bandwagon (and maybe rolled your eyes or shook your head sadly at an every-dog vaccination protocol), talk to a few experts and see if it's time to change your mind.

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