Both ourselves and our pets are very lucky. Vaccination was voted as the last century’s most significant scientific advancement. And stretching in to this century, these “wonder protectors” are just getting better and better. For our pets, and specifically for dogs, recently this has meant that the level of cover against one of the most insidious of illnesses, leptospirosis, (which is also known as Weil’s disease when it affects humans) has got a whole lot better. And that is very helpful, as in some cases the disease that our dogs pick up from their environment can be passed on to us!
So what is leptospirosis?
It’s a serious bacterial infection affecting the gut, or liver and kidneys. Typically, the disease is picked up by dogs from water courses in which rats that carry the organism have shed it in their urine. Our chances of getting the disease are slim in view of the fact we don’t tend to drink from pools of water, as a general rule at least! It’s not the exclusive means by which we can pick up the disease, but you get the picture. But as for dogs…..! They seem to absolutely love messing around in water – be that swimming in it or slurping it up whilst out on their walks. Given the number of rats, and the high likelihood of these rodents carrying the disease and shedding it via their urine in to water courses such as rivers, streams, ponds and lakes, then the danger posed becomes all too apparent.
As Vets we’ve known about the disease for a very long time. In the annual vaccination given to your dog this element of protection is always present, and it’s essential that it is topped up annually.
What are the signs of leptospirosis in my dog?
Annoyingly, they can be quite vague, but sometimes quite dramatic as well. It’s for this reason it’s been commonly described as an ‘iceberg disease’, what you see on the surface is only part of the problem. In some forms of the disease there is vomiting and a bloody, loose stool. In others there may be liver damage and jaundice develops. Sometimes the kidneys are affected with renal failure developing. But it may also be a debilitating disease with little in the way of obvious clues other than a dog just not being quite right. These dogs present a diagnostic challenge for vets, but alarm bells will ring if there has been a break in the yearly vaccination, or more worryingly, they’re not vaccinated at all!
So what is the new protection against the disease?
Our ability to fully protect against leptospirosis has never been quite as good as we would have liked. There were generally two common versions of the disease that could be protected against in the annual vaccination injection, which made up just over a third of the strains that dogs were exposed to in their environment. Very recently this protection has been increased to 85% with the addition of another two strains to the vaccine. It’s for this reason that it’s been called an L4 vaccine. Two injections are needed to get the vaccine fully working in the dog’s immune system, which means at annual vaccination booster time you will be asked to bring your dog back to your vets for the 2nd part of the vaccine four weeks later. In fairness though that’s a very small hassle for the increased protection that this new version of the vaccine affords to dogs.