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Leptospirosis - Frequently asked questions

1. What is Leptospirosis (Lepto)? 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread through the urine of infected rats, wildlife and dogs. It causes kidney and liver disease, can affect other organs such as the heart or eyes, and can eventually cause organ failure and death.

2. How could my dog catch it?

Dogs will typically come into contact with the bacteria in infected water, soil or mud, or from coming into contact with urine from an infected animal. Working dogs, dogs that live near wooded areas and dogs that live near farms are at an increased risk of acquiring leptospirosis; however any dog can be affected.

3. What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

We would urge owners to contact us if they see any of the following symptoms in their dogs: lethargy, reduced appetite, high temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased drinking, and jaundice.

4. How is it treated?

Leptospirosis can progress very rapidly but can often respond well to antibiotic treatment as long as it is treated promptly and as soon as the symptoms of the disease are first detected. In order to diagnose the condition, the vet will usually run a series of blood and urine tests. For dogs that are more severely affected, they will need to be hospitalised and treatment will depend on the affected organs. Thankfully, we have a team of specialist vets that have a lot of experience treating leptospirosis and even teach other vets how to deal with the disease.

5. Can it be prevented?

Some of the cases we have seen have actually been in vaccinated dogs, so in response to this outbreak we are introducing an additional vaccine which provides a greater level of protection against this new strain of the disease. The vaccine requires two doses to be given 4 weeks apart before full protection is achieved. The lepto vaccination we have introduced is the UK licensed vaccine, Nobivac L4 which covers up to 4 strains of leptospirosis, including the strain 'Australis serovar Bratislava' which we believe is causing the outbreak in the area at the moment. There are a number of types of L4 vaccines used around the world which cover different strains e.g. the L4 vaccine that is used in the USA does not cover the Bratislava strain as it is only prevalent in Europe.

6. Why wasn’t this included in vaccines already?

We have never before seen cases of leptospirosis in vaccinated dogs at Highcroft until this winter, so have not needed to recommend this additional level of protection to avoid 'over-vaccinating' pets. We constantly review all medications used at Highcroft at monthly clinical care meetings to ensure that we are always providing our patients the best care available.

7. Isn’t Lepto covered by puppy vaccinations and annual boosters already?

There are different strains of leptospirosis and the two most common strains are covered in routine vaccinations. However, just like many diseases in people such as influenza (flu), leptospirosis exists in different forms and the strain causing the current outbreak is likely to be an emerging form of the disease not covered by the classical vaccination.

8. I don’t live in the countryside, is my dog still at risk?

Although dogs are more at risk of contracting leptospirosis in rural areas, it is still recommended to protect your dog against it, even if living in a town or city. There actually have been reported cases of leptospirosis in city dogs living in the Bristol area. Leptospirosis is carried by rats and spread through affected dogs’ urine, so there is always a chance your dog may come across the disease, regardless of where you live or walk.

9. Can people catch leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a known zoonose and is contagious to humans. Most of the time the symptoms are mild in people and often resemble flu, however occasionally it can cause more serious disease and can even be fatal.

10. Do cats need to be vaccinated against leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis very rarely affects cats; therefore they do not need to be vaccinated against it.

11. What is the new protocol for vaccinating my dog?

PUPPIES - Most puppies will now need to have 3 injections at 8, 10 and 12 weeks old. The puppy will receive both the general vaccination and the L4 (Lepto) vaccination at 8 weeks old. The second general vaccination will be given at 10 weeks old (so not to affect the age of socialisation). At 12 weeks old, your puppy will receive the second L4 vaccination and will be fully covered against leptospirosis.

BOOSTERSAt the time of your dog’s annual booster vaccination, we will now include the L4 leptospirosis vaccine as well. Your dog will need a second injection of the L4 vaccine 4 weeks later in order to be fully protected if receiving the vaccine for the first time. THIS IS FREE OF CHARGE!

12. How much is this going to cost? 

Highcroft will not be charging any more to dogs having their annual booster, the second injection of the L4 vaccine will be free and the cost of puppy vaccinations will not be increased either. However, if you would like to have the increased protection for your dog before the annual booster is due, then there will be a charge of £39.42 for the course of two vaccinations.

13. Is the new leptospirosis vaccination included in the Healthy Start Packages for puppies?

Yes, the L4 leptospirosis vaccination course has been included in all Healthy Start Packages for puppies. Most puppies will need to have 3 injections at 8, 10 and 12 weeks old. It is very important that puppies avoid high risk areas (e.g. standing water, areas known to have rats) until 2 weeks after the last injection. However, they can still be socialised from 11 weeks onwards so puppy parties etc will not be affected.

14. My dog has just been vaccinated with the old vaccines, how soon can they have the leptospirosis injections?

There is no time limit; your dog can receive the L4 vaccination straight away.

15. How long after the vaccination course until my pet is covered?

The L4 vaccination is a course of 2 injections, 4 weeks apart. It is not until 2 weeks after the 2nd injection, that your dog will be fully protected.

16. How often does my dog need to be vaccinated against leptospirosis?

After the initial course of two vaccinations, it should be given annually and will be included in your routine yearly vaccinations.

17. Are there any side effects to the leptospirosis vaccination?

As with general vaccinations, dogs can feel a little lethargic after receiving the injections.  The L4 leptospirosis vaccination has been reported to sometimes make dogs feel slightly unwell after receiving their vaccinations, so do not be alarmed if this happens for 2-3 days after the vaccine. Any longer than this, then please seek veterinary advice.

If you have any further concerns or questions regarding leptospirosis and/or the L4 vaccine, please contact your local branch to discuss with a vet or nurse.

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