Leptospirosis is an organism that infects people and animals around the world. There are many different strains of the organism, but eight types that are common in dogs and cats. Cats do not often become terribly ill by an infection; however, in dogs and livestock, the disease can cause severe illness.
Transmission of leptospirosis occurs through contact with infected urine, through mating, from mother to offspring, or by eating tissue infected with the disease. The organisms multiply in the blood system and spread throughout the body. Infection in the liver and kidneys causes the greatest illness. High fever, vomiting and dehydration are the most common symptoms, with renal failure being the most serious complication.
While there are vaccines available against the bacterial infection caused by Leptospirosis, most protect against only a few of the strains. Vaccines are also not long acting, offering protection for only 6 to 8 months. In addition, vaccinations for leptospirosis are one of the most likely to cause a reaction in a healthy animal. Because of this, some veterinarians are recommending leptospirosis vaccinations only for those pets most at risk of contracting the infection.
Because infection rates are low in cats, there are currently no vaccinations available for felines.
Until recently, vaccines for dogs only protected against two serovars of leptospirosis---canicola and icterohemorrhagica. Fort Dodge now has the duramune leptospirosis vaccine that provides protection against the grippotyphosa, pomona, icterohemorrhagica and canicola serovars.
The vaccines protect the dog from developing the illness associated with leptospirosis but do not protect the dog against infection. This means the dog could still be a carrier of the disease, even though it is showing no symptoms.
Vaccinating against Leptospirosis is common, and if your dog received the usual DHLPP injection at his last checkup, the L stands for Leptospirosis.
Until recently vaccines were killed and whole culture, which was one of the reasons they were so likely to cause reactions. The new Fort Dodge vaccine is not whole culture, and the possibility of reactions has been reduced.
Because of the potential for reaction, most puppies aren't vaccinated against leptospirosis until they are at least 8 weeks of age, and many veterinarians wait until puppies are 12 to 16 weeks old.
In addition to vaccinating, there are precautions pet guardians can take to prevent their dogs and cats from becoming infected. Pets should be kept out of contact with potential sources of contamination, such as water sources that are questionable and away from wildlife reservoirs.