Leptospirosis: Traveling and the Return of the Vaccination Dilemma

When we lived in South Ontario, we vaccinated against leptospiroris annually. It has always been source of emotional turmoil for me. It's an optional vaccine, which means my call whether or not our guys should get it.

Which is the lesser of the evils?

There were cases of dogs getting sick with it in the area and our dogs do spend a substantial amount of time outdoors, in the bush or on farm land. All of which hosts plenty of critters and wildlife.

That's when we always ended up vaccinating.

When we moved up here, I discussed with our new vet whether or not we should continue vaccinating.

According to our vet, the serovars found in wildlife are not covered by the vaccine. Which means it doesn't make sense to vaccinate because vaccination against one doesn't protect for another.

I wasn't completely sure whether I should be happy or concerned. I suppose this will always be a dilemma for me, one way or another. Because I am a worry wart, I was concerned. But we didn't vaccinate. It would have made any sense. Though Jasmine's vet said that even if it is true about the local serovars, what if we traveled?

Well, we don't travel. At least we didn't.

At the end of April, though, we'll be all going South for couple of weeks.

When you travel, you want to have your vaccinations covered, right?

To be honest, it wouldn't have even enter my mind if it wasn't for a question on my FB group, asking about lepto vaccination. I answered the question and suddenly things clicked in my head. We ARE going to be traveling. We are going to be traveling to an area where we know the serovars covered by the vaccine are present.

Should we vaccinate then?

As much as I don't like the idea, my gut was telling me to do so. To gather more intel I called a local vet at the area where we'll be staying, asking about what their situation and their recommendations are. They do vaccinate dogs at risk, meaning dogs spending time in the woods and other places frequented with wildlife. Which is what our guys will be doing.

I then called our vet to see what they think. Turns out they are starting to vaccinate more as well. I guess the serovar situation has changed.

Here is the thing.

Leptospirosis should be perfectly treatable with antibiotics. 

If caught and diagnosed early. But that part is pretty tricky, in spite of the spiffy fast test available at IDEXX Laboratories. Before one can run the test, they have to know something is wrong and have the right suspicion. And that's where the culprit lies.

The vaccine has a relatively high risk of adverse reactions.

Though that seems to be the case mostly in small dogs. Our guys are not small. They had this vaccine before without a problem. But, of course, there is never a problem until there is.

The vaccine is not all that effective.

It doesn't really last even the one full year and the effectiveness is questionable. The fact that a friend's vaccinated dog died of leptospirosis last year doesn't make the decision any easier. And it was a serovar included in the vaccine. And the dog never went anywhere other than the yard. But, of course, wild critters don't care about yards and fences and boundaries.

At the end, I'm thinking vaccinating is the lesser of the evils after all.

What do you think? What would you do?

Related articles:
Your Dog And Leptospirosis 
Angry Vet On Leptospirosis
Increasing Threat of Leptospirosis 

Further reading:
Leptospirosis vaccination risks 


  1. Have you considered going with the Recombitek 4 lepto vaccine from Merial? From what I have been able to find it doesn't carry the risk of reaction because it is nonadjuvanted. Testing also seems to show it is actually effective for a full year unlike all the others I have read about. I realize it isn't a guarantee of protection but at least this vaccine seems to be with very little risk.

    1. Thank you, Samantha, it would be the 4 lepto vaccine; not sure where there are more brands or just one; I'll find out. Non-adjuvanted sounds good! Thank you so much. Protection isn't guaranteed with any of them; lower risk sounds great.

  2. The Recombitek version is hard to find in my neck of the woods in upstate NY. Most of the vets out here offer the vangaurd and nobivac version, neither of which are adjuvant-free.

  3. Here's the thing - symptoms do not always present. Jeffie had NO symptoms. Zero. Until the morning he was terribly sick and his liver was already failing. And, as you know, he was vaccinated and it was a strain that vaccine is for that killed him. My advice: better safe than sorry. (But you already knew I was going to say that.)

    1. Yeah, problems can stay hidden until they are too big. And yes, better safe than sorry is my motto too.

  4. Lepto is the only non required vaccine I give. We do have a lot of wild life in our area and we do walk a lot in the woods. I also have this conversation with my vet every year and when I told her about Jeffie she was shocked. She also said any time she even suspects Lepto she treats for it, because it IS such a horrible disease. I understand your hesitation, if it were my dogs, I would do it.

  5. in the end it boils down to what you can live with. If you vaccinate and there is a reaction, would that be better or worse than not vaccinating and the dog catching Lepto. What are the incidents of vaccine reaction vs the infection rate of lepto. etc..

    In the end, it really is which can you live with.


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