Vaccination advice for domestic dogs

Vaccinating domestic dogs against leptospirosis receives a lot of publicity online, as the practice has many supporters and many opposers. We are firmly in the first camp, and advocate vaccination and annual boosters for domestic and working dogs where there is a significant risk of leptospirosis being contracted. The only exceptions would be for isolated geographical regions where leptospires are not present in the environment, for dogs kept indoors or in controlled conditions, or for laboratory research animals. Leptospirosis in dogs is an extremely severe disease, very difficult to treat and with a high level of suffering, plus a high probability of death. Vaccination is not a 100% safe solution, but is statistically far better than trying to treat animals once they become infected. The treatment is usually covered by your dog insurance if your dog due get infected.  The disease can usually be treated if discovered in time.

The canine leptospira vaccine usually has three or four different parts, each active against one group of serovars. The composition of vaccines is changed occasionally to reflect the infections seen in that region, but it does not guarantee total immunity as there are always other serovars active in the environment. The most common quadrivalent vaccine in the developed world at the moment covers grippotyphosa, pomona, canicola and icterohemorrhagiae. In the USA the leptospiral canine vaccine is classed as a ‘non-core’ medication – so it should be given to individuals where their geographical location or lifestyle suggests exposure, but not as a standard vaccination for every single dog. We support this classification but stress to pet owners that leptospirosis is present in almost every region of the world, so if your dog is allowed to roam outdoors in areas where carrier species may be active (rats and other feral mammals), or may swim or drink from groundwater, they are at risk of infection and should be vaccinated. Rural areas are not the only concern, as rat populations in some inner cities can be far larger than in the wild. There is an incidence of reaction to leptospiral vaccine (leading to anaphylaxis and sometime death), but this is concentrated in puppies under 12 weeks of age and small-size breeds (toys and miniatures). Vacccinating small breeds should be based on a careful discussion with your veterinarian as to the relative risks, and puppies should wait until at least 12 weeks before their initial innoculation.

Canine vaccines can be given at any stage in a dog’s life, except in the first 12 weeks, and are followed by a booster given 2 to 4 weeks later. The vaccine provides immunity for about a year, so an annual booster is required where the animal remains at risk, but vaccination only protects against some of the serovars and is thought to be about 75% efficient. Vaccination is often mandatory should you wish to transport a domestic dog across international borders, and an essential precaution for dogs working on livestock farms, to protect both the dog and the livestock from infecting each other. Breeding females can pass the infection to their puppies and show very high incidences of stillbirth, so may prompt vaccination in more situations than males.

All dog owners should discuss vaccination with their vet, realistically looking at the lifestyle of the animal, where it may play, what other animals it may cone into contact with and so on.

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