Is Vaccination Necessary?

An increasingly common question brought up by our clients is about vaccines and if they are necessary for their pets. Providing accurate client information is one of my most enjoyable tasks. If we look at the disease Canine Leptospirosis and the annual preventative vaccination, I can hopefully put things in perspective for you to understand this disease and the reason why we vaccinate our pets.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a spirochete bacteria similar to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in dogs and humans. Outside a mammal’s body it lives in water or warm, wet soil. It causes a variety of flu-like symptoms, but it can develop into a more severe, life-threatening illness that affects many organs. In dogs, it primarily affects the kidneys and liver. It may cause serious life-threatening illness in dogs, other animals, and people throughout the United States and around the world.

The most common way dogs become infected with leptospirosis is by coming in contact with the urine of infected animals (often skunks, rodents, raccoons, or livestock on farms) – usually in water or on wet ground. Dogs become infected by swimming in, or drinking, contaminated water or by playing in areas where infected urine is present, like under birdfeeders where seeds collect that are visited by rodents or other animals at night. Leptospires enter the body through the dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or through a break in the skin caused by a cut or scratch. If the infection reaches the kidneys and bladder, the dog may become a carrier of leptospirosis, spreading the bacteria each time it urinates.

The symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs are usually lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and often times jaundice. Jaundice is noted by a yellow cast in the membranes of the mouth and whites of the eyes. At least 80 percent of the infected dogs develop serious kidney problems, with some developing acute kidney failure. The dog may also be reluctant to move due to muscle or kidney pain.

It can be a challenge to diagnose Leptospirosis quickly because it can look like and mimic many other diseases. Our doctors will have to run blood and urine tests, but while waiting on the diagnostic test results, our veterinarians may recommend supportive treatment with a combination of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, as well as other therapies.

You can try to lower your dog’s risk of leptospirosis by limiting exposure to potential sources of contamination (stagnant water, rodents, damp ground in shaded areas), but the best way to protect your dog is with an annual vaccination that protects against the leading causes of leptospirosis. Currently vaccines protect against the 4 most common types of Leptospires. Dogs have been vaccinated for this disease for many years, and the vaccines are almost always safe and well tolerated. Sometimes dogs experience tenderness at the injection site and/or lethargy, but that usually goes away very quickly.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that the potential is present for the bacteria to be transmitted from animals to humans. The major public health consideration is with contaminated urine from infected animals. People with flu-like symptoms who have been exposed to leptospirosis should notify their physician immediately so that appropriate therapy can be started right away.

Ask our Veterinarians any questions you might have about preventing the common diseases in your pets when you come in for your next visit.

Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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