Leptospirosis - Assessing the Risks


In our recent article Dog Vaccination Guidelines 2015 we discussed modern guidelines for dog vaccinations and boosters.

There are core and non-core vaccinations. Non-core vaccines are only required for pets whose geographical location, local environment or lifestyle places them at risk of contracting specific infections.

dog being vaccinated by a vetOne of the non-core vaccines is for a disease called Leptospirosis. This potentially fatal disease, especially in puppies, is hard to diagnose and treat. It is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be passed from animals to humans.

The primary risk is from the urine of infected rats and other animals. The environment and water sources, especially stagnant ones, can easily be contaminated. Potentially any dog who goes outside could therefore be at risk.

Whether or not to give the vaccine for Leptospirosis has always been a contentious issue. Like the flu virus, leptospira bacteria changes constantly. This means that vaccinating against one strain does not protect your dog from another strain of the disease. It is also one of the vaccines that is more likely to cause adverse reactions. This has always been the case. Finally, it only lasts for up to 12 months so the Lepto vaccination would have to be given annually.

ratPreviously the Leptospirosis vaccine only covered 2 different strains (the ones most common to the UK) but a new vaccine was introduced that covers 4 strains. This is the Nobivac L4 vaccine.

The Telegraph reported on 2nd July 2016 that "Thousands of dogs across Britain are dying or suffering severe allergic reactions after being treated with a vaccine meant to protect them against mild bacterial infections, claim their owners."

While that sounds alarming and definitely should not be taken lightly, I don't think anyone with a dog who has died of Lepto is likely to refer to it as a "mild bacterial infection". It is a serious bacterial infection and it can be fatal. The article elaborates on a couple of anecdotal cases, but let's not go there. This is a serious issue that should not be muddied with media hype.

However, the article does bring to the fore one very important point. The Nobivac L4 vaccine, like the 2 strain Lepto vaccine before it, should never be administered lightly. To go back to the point we made earlier, the vaccine for Lepto has always been contentious. It has always been a vaccine that needs a lot of consideration before it is given to our dogs.

The Telegraph article also raises the point that many owners say they were not aware of the risks of the Lepto vaccine and were not informed of these risks by their vet.

The best way forward is to make sure you are as informed as you can be, then talk to your vet about the potential risks and benefits of the Leptospirosis vaccine for your particular dog and their particular circumstances. This decision should take into account your dog's age, current health and their risk of contracting the disease. It is also worth noting that the World Small Animal Veterinary Association have advised owners not to use the Nobivac L4 vaccine on puppies under the age of 12 weeks.

Please do read our Dog Vaccination Guidelines 2015 article so that you are fully informed when it comes to discussing the vaccination issue with your vet and making these important decisions.

Finally, if your pet does suffer a reaction following any vaccination, medication or similar, please do report it. To find out more, visit Reporting Adverse Reactions.

By Jenny Prevel

© D for Dog www.dfordog.co.uk
This article belongs strictly to D for Dog and we do not authorise the copying of all or any part of it.

06 July 2016  |  16:57

Disappointing article 'let's not go there'??? Anecdotal cases??? If you read the true, and heartbreaking cases well documented in social media, and well able to be verified you would not have written such a lighthearted piece on such a worrying issue.

D for Dog
06 July 2016  |  19:33

The newspapers are the ones making light of this issue by scaremongering. Please don't forget that they are in the business of selling papers by writing sensational headlines with equally sensational content. I refuse to do that. I am aware of the cases on social media and in the papers. There are equally heartbreaking stories of dogs dying of Lepto. So no, I won't go there. This article is not light-hearted in any shape or form. At no point do we dismiss the gravity of Lepto (unlike The Telegraph) nor do we dismiss the potential dangers of the Lepto vaccine. I have spent a lot of time over the years researching dog vaccinations. Not only that, but I do it for free, to help and inform dog owners. Do you think the daily papers have the same agenda? I have reported on this issue in a much more balanced way than they have and to do that it is necessary to refrain from including unproven case studies. Dog owners need facts and advice, which is what I have provided.

Caroline Chapman
07 July 2016  |  19:28

An excellent article, easily understood & unbiased. I wasn't aware of the Lepto issue. I only vaccinate my dog 3 yearly, but she always has the Lepto vaccine every year as is recommended. I shall consider her lifestyle & decide what to do for the future. Thank you very much for the info.

D for Dog
30 July 2016  |  10:07

That's great. This is what people need to do - weigh up the pros and cons. Each dog's needs and circumstances will vary so it can only be done on an individual basis.

29 July 2016  |  20:09

I have 3 dogs and they have all had the L4 vaccine. The risk of my dogs getting Lepto is to big a risk to avoid not vaccinating against it.

D for Dog
30 July 2016  |  10:02

That's good, that you have thought this through and discussed the pros and cons with your vet. That's what everyone needs to do. Great stuff.

30 July 2016  |  20:45

Thank you for the article - very informative.

We do the core vaccinations 3 yearly as recommended, but lepto every year as there is lepto in our area, and our dog loves the water and muddy puddles! She was fine when receiving her puppy vaccinations (L2) but then when she had her 1 year boosters, she reacted to the L4. It was a bit scary for her and us, but the vet was very good and gave her a steroid shot which seemed to settle her quite quickly. When we was due for next booster a year later we first checked her antibody titres, in case a revaccination wasn't necessary. Unfortunately, she had virtually nothing so we had to go for the jab. So we gave her a few days of antihistamines prior, then on the day, the vet gave her the steroid jab half an hour before her lepto jab. We were pleased to see no reaction this time! I must admit I was not particularly made aware by the vet that this jab can cause reactions more so than the other vaccines, but they have been quite good in addressing my concern with it happening again. I think it's essential to get them jabbed against this.

D for Dog
31 July 2016  |  14:41

Absolutely, if the dog is at high risk of Lepto. Clearly your dog needs the vaccination as the risk of Lepto is higher than the risk of having the vaccination. And it is great that your vet has worked to reduce side effects too.

31 July 2016  |  1:13

The WSAVA said no such thing. Don't believe everything newspapers write...

D for Dog
31 July 2016  |  14:38

Exactly. Great link. Many thanks for that. This kind of scaremongering and misinformation from media sources doesn't help anyone.

Sue Foot
01 August 2016  |  21:26

if a dog dies from lept after haveing the injection or not does it show up in a blood test a friend has just lhad to have her dog put down after blood tests and full xrays could not find out the cause of the problem pain dia with blood etc
unfortunately these investigations cost over £1000 with a nights stay at the vets and she couldnt afford to have an MRI
has anyone got any ideas what does not show up on blood tests or xrays


Patricia Beadle
24 November 2017  |  12:32

Many years ago, probably late 70s early 80s, there was an article in the dog press written by a lady who had been to a veterinary seminar on vaccines. The outcome was that if a puppy is vaccinated before 12 weeks it will probably still have immunity from the mother so the vaccine won't take. That is the reason a second one is given. So if the puppy is vaccinated after 12 weeks it will only need one. I decide to put this to the test as I had a singleton pup in a litter. when she was 12 weeks I took her to be vaccinated and sure enough the vet said that was all she needed! Since then vets have always insisted on a second? I have at the moment a 10 week old pup and when I spoke to my vet he said if I had her done at 12 weeks she would still need a second jab for Lepto! Am am now wondering whether or not to agree to it - she is such a tiny might weighing just over 2lbs! We live in the country and attend alot of dog shows. My other dogs have never had any boosters! What do others think?

14 September 2018  |  16:58

Hi took my 3 year old shih tzu for booster last year and after reading about the vaccinations a few weeks ago have decided not to have his this year got his vaccinations book out and realised last year my vet never gave him his full booster and never mentioned anything all he had one the lepto 2 injection Iím very annoyed I wasnít told this has they have always saIíd dog and cats need their yearly vaccinations but they keep telling me he will still need the lepto 2 this year does he really need this

Evelyn Macrae
13 November 2018  |  21:07

Dogs need their core booster every 3yrs. and the Lepto2 every 12-14 mths.

19 October 2018  |  14:30

Iíve read so many articles on this subject, the pros and cons, one battling out with the other, I just donít know what am supposed to do for my two dogs, itís so baffling, my dogs walk out on moors and to the beach and across fields, they have always had the Lepto vaccine, but now I am worried about adverse reactions with this Jab. Thinking of not doing it next time around, but to be honest am no scientist and I donít really understand that area. Confused dog owner.

20 October 2018  |  16:20

If they haven't ever reacted to the vaccine before then the chances of them reacting now are extremely slim. I would recommend weighing out the risks, is it worth exposing your dog to a potentially fatal disease to avoid an allergic reaction which they could have to anything else they come across in their day to day lives?

Evelyn Macrae
13 November 2018  |  21:16

Jackie..From what I have researched the Lepto 4 vaccine has a slightly higher adverse reaction than the Lepto2. It is still very safe and 2 is recommended for Uk unless travelling abroad a lot when the 4 is best.I am getting my dog vaccinated with the Lepto 2. As your dogs are country dogs its important I would say to keep them up to date as they are more at risk .Re vaccinate every 12-14 mths.as the BVA recommend.
Its a potentially fatal disease and I would rather my dog was protected.

19 January 2019  |  18:41

I have only just heard about the problems with Lepto 4 (Novivac). Having read numerous accounts of dogs dying and having serious effects after this vaccine, I believe it was this that killed my dog. My dog was vaccinated every year throughout her life and always had Lepto 2 without any problems. However, in jul 2016, she had the Lepto 4 with the second part of vaccine 4 weeks after. During this time she suddenly became unwell and had to be put down. Vets didnt know what was wrong, I couldnt afford tests or post mortem after. She was 9 years old. The Lepto 4 should be banned worldwide!

Pico Brandi
02 February 2019  |  23:23

Hi my dog is 15 months old and I took him to the vet for his yearly booster he was given lepto 4 and I was told if he had lepto 2 for his first vaccination he has to go back in 4 weeks for a top up vaccination, I don't understand this as if he's already had the lepto 4 then it should be covered for another year??? What's the other injection in 4 weeks about, and my friend never told me anything about the dangers of lepto 4 etc. I don't know what to do about going back in 4 weeks.
Please help