What you need to know about Leptospirosis and the lepto vaccine
Leptospirosis, often called lepto for short, is a disease caused by a bacteria that can effect not only our household pets, but also wildlife and humans as well. As pet owners, it's important to learn as much as possible about the diseases that can effect our pets, so that we can learn how to better manage our furry friends health.
Leptospirosis is a disease that is caused by a bacteria that is commonly found in stagnant water or animal urine. If your pet drinks out of a contaminated water source, or sniffs or licks animal urine, then it's possible that they could be exposed to this potentially very dangerous disease. There are over 200 different strains of bacteria in the family of bacteria that are known to cause lepto. So far, at least eight of these bacteria are known to cause leptospirosis in pets.
Once your pet is exposed to the leptospirosis bacteria, it can take anywhere from 2 to 20 days for them to show physical symptoms of being sick. A small percentage of animals never become sick at all, because their bodies are able to fight off the disease on it's own. Out of the animals who do show signs of the disease, the most common early symptoms can include fever, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. Lepo can sometimes be hard to recognize and diagnose because the symptoms can look very similar to other common diseases.
The most dangerous aspect of leptospirosis is that it creates toxins in your pets body that can cause damage to their livers and kidneys. Out of all the lepto fatalities, kidney failure caused by the disease is the most common cause of death. If caught and treated early, however, you can sometimes avoid or limit the amount of permanent damage done to your pet. Lepto can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Often times pets will also need supportive care to prevent them from becoming dehydrated and to help protect their organs. Any liver or kidney damage caused by the disease will most likely be permanent and will need to be managed for the rest of the animals life.
The best way to avoid leptospirosis is to avoid exposing your pet to potentially contaminated water sources. For owners who don't feel like taking precautions against contaminated water is enough, there is also a hotly debated vaccine against this disease. The lepto vaccine does not, unfortunately, cover all strains of the disease. It is also not always effective for all pets, even against the strains of lepto that it does cover. Usually dogs who get a strain of lepto that they have been vaccinated against will get a more mild form of the disease.
Other than that it's protective powers is very limited, and that it doesn't always work, there are some other factors that have discouraged some pet owners from using this vaccine on their animals. The lepto vaccine has one of the highest reaction rates out of all the currently available canine vaccines. In dogs, it is known to cause allergic reactions that can include everything from pain at the injection site to antipathetic shock and death. Because lepto is caused by a bacteria, the vaccine for it must be given at least once every year for it to remain effective. In same cases, the vaccine has shown to not be effective for the duration of a full year.
The fact that the leptospirosis vaccine doesn't cover all strains of lepto, is known to commonly cause reactions, and isn't always effective are all reasons why many owners opt not to vaccinate their pets against this particular disease. It also plays in these owners favor that lepto, if caught soon enough, is usually very treatable.
The risk for each individual dog of catching lepto should be assessed by the pets owner and veterinarian. If you and your vet decide to vaccinate your pet, it's important to vaccinate at least one or two weeks apart from any other vaccines. Using a combo vaccine or giving your pet more than one vaccine at once puts extra stress on your pets immune system. As long as you only vaccinate for one thing at a time, you will be able to asses how your dog reacts to that individual vaccine so that you know in the future if your pet has a sensitivity to that vaccine or not. No matter what you choose to do about the lepto vaccine, it's important to learn the signs and cause of this disease so that you can learn to avoid the causes, and will know how to react if your dog does show the signs. Your pets likelihood of overcoming this disease without any lasting damage is higher the sooner you can get them treatment. As pet owners, it's always important to be proactive about our pets health and too arm ourselves with knowledge. When caring for an animal that can mean so much to us, but yet cannot speak, we must be our pet's voices.