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OUTBREAK WARNING: Leptospirosis disease in dogs

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We are warning all dog owners that we have seen a number of cases of Leptospirosis (also known as Weil’s disease) at our surgeries during December. This serious, bacterial infection can cause liver and kidney failure and can be fatal if not treated promptly. Spread by rats and contracted from areas of stagnant water, it can also be possible for people to contract Leptospirosis.  All of the cases we have seen so far have been in dogs living or exercising in the countryside to the South of Bristol.

Leptospirosis can progress very rapidly but responds well to antibiotic treatment as long as it is treated promptly and as soon as the symptoms of the disease are first detected. We would therefore urge owners to contact us if they see any of the following symptoms in their dogs.


  • Lethargy
  • High temperature 
  • Vomiting 
  • Bloody diarrhoea
  • Increased drinking
  • Jaundice


As these cases have been seen in vaccinated dogs, something we have never seen before, we suspect that a new strain of Leptospirosis is emerging in this area. In response to this outbreak we have introduced an additional vaccine which provides a greater level of protection against this disease. The vaccine requires two doses to be given 4 weeks apart before full protection is achieved.

Unfortunately some dogs can contract the disease without developing the full symptoms and they can remain carriers, continuing to spread the disease through their urine. We recommend that you book an appointment to discuss appropriate tests with your vet if you are concerned that your dog may have been exposed to the disease.

If you are at all worried about this outbreak or would like to know a bit more information about Leptospirosis and/or vaccinations, please contact your local branch surgery to speak to a vet or a nurse. Alternatively, have a read through our Frequently Asked Questions on our Pet Advice page.

NB (for a bit more science!): 

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. The Nobivac L4 vaccine we have introduced has had reports of very mild side effects, like all classical vaccines, or none at all.   We have so far treated 10 cases of confirmed leptospirosis over an approx 8 week time period which is incredibly unusual. This is why we have had to factor in additional protection against lepto to try to manage the numbers. It is of course, always the owner's choice whether to vaccinate their dog or which vaccine is used, however based on the number of cases we have seen recently and the number of fatalities as a result of contracting leptospirosis; we would like owners to consider the risks either way. The L4 vaccine has been incorporated into the dog's annual booster jab, therefore there is no charge for this additional vaccine unless receiving it at a different time to the booster. We would more so like to draw attention to the symptoms of leptospirosis, so that owners can seek veterinary attention as soon as possible, just in case.


Alex commented on 15-Jan-2015 01:46 PM
This is not a new vaccine, Nobivac L4 has been available since 2012, increasing protection from the 2 most common to the 4 most common Lepto strains seen in the UK over the period 2007-2011.

How many infections are you aware of in the area that were not either Canicola or Icterohaemorrhagiae?


Why since 2012 have Highcroft opted to stay with the standard bivalent vaccine up to now?
Highcroft Veterinary Group commented on 15-Jan-2015 04:58 PM
Dear Alex, 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.

We have had 9 confirmed cases of leptospirosis so far, 8 had been vaccinated with a 2-strain vaccine and one was unvaccinated. We suspect most or all these cases were caused by another strain than icterohaemorrhagiae or canicola, the two strains in classical vaccines. Hope this answers your queries.
Lynn Carter commented on 16-Jan-2015 09:19 AM
This is full of interesting information but I would like to also notify you that in 2013 we lost a dog to Leptospirosis Javenica after being bitten by a rat in West Berkshire. This is a relatively newly identified strain originating on the other side of the world, it is particularly aggressive. There is no vaccine to protect against this and no cross protection from any other vaccine.As you say owners vigilance and vets quick response with antibiotics is vital! I wish all vets were as aware of this as you apparently are - our dog might still be with us.
JA commented on 14-May-2015 10:26 PM
Hi, You use the words 'believe' and 'suspect'- which strain of the leptospirosis virus was ACTUALLY identified from the 9 cases you refer to, were they confirmed by tests as Australiis Bratislava and or grippotyphosa, what was the outcome for the 9 cases? Thanks
Highcroft Veterinary Group commented on 18-May-2015 09:50 AM
Hi JA,
Thanks for your comment.
When serology has been tested, a full panel has been performed. This includes Canicola, Hadjo, Icterohaemorrhagiae, Pomona, Grippotyphosa and Bratislava. Australis is not currently offered by the laboratory we use. Many of the dogs seen were vaccinated with bivalent vaccine. Some dogs had positive titres for Bratislava but titres were variable. Other positive titres were seen but in vaccinated animals against vaccinal serovars. Cross reactions can be seen and therefore serology is not always straightforward to interpret. PCR analysis does not currently allow identification of the infecting serovar. We have treated over 50 patients from across the region that have tested positive for leptospirosis, with varying outcomes. Thankfully the majority have been effectively treated and are continuing to do well.
If you would like to read the veterinary article regarding our experience of the outbreak of leptospirosis please visit http://www.highcroftvetreferrals.co.uk/news/leptospirosis-update-for-vets.
We hope this answers your queries.
Lorraine Carter commented on 13-Mar-2017 08:43 AM
My vet said you can not titre test for lepto but above you said you did. In theory then could a titre test distinguish betwen which strain vacination or exposure has given them antibodies to.
Highcroft Veterinary Group commented on 13-Mar-2017 02:49 PM
Hi Lorraine,

It is possible to have a Full MAT Lepto serology test at some labs. This may identify which serovars the animal has been exposed to. However, even if the animal has a high antibodies titre to Lepto at present, because the duration of immunity is so short for the leptospirosis vaccine (around 12 months) it is very unlikely that the immunity would persist for another full 12 months until the next booster.

We hope that helps to answer your query, please feel free to discuss this further with a member of our team if you have any further questions.

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