Friday, March 8, 2013

How important is the leptospirosis vaccine in dogs?

Liam the pug lying on his pile of dog toys
Sleeping on toys in the sunshine; it's pure bliss.
A few months ago, I went through an intensive "new pet" question-and-answer session with a vet tech. I was visiting a new veterinarian's office, since I'd just moved to the area a few months ago, and when I mentioned that Liam went to the Oregon coast with me on occasion, this tech told me Liam would need to be vaccinated for leptospirosis.

This was news to me.

While I'm no veterinary professional, I have worked in the industry for many years, and I've had dogs for almost all of my life. I've never even heard of this vaccine, nor have I ever seen a dog infected with leptospirosis.

This particular veterinary office has a pro-vaccine stance, and the technician explained this to me in detail. The thinking here is that vaccines can provide needed protection against a variety of medical ailments, and most owners would prefer to obtain vaccines for their pets, rather than seeing them fall sick and potentially die from something that's preventable through vaccination. This office believes in vaccines so strongly, in fact, that they'll include the cost of two vaccines with all veterinary checkup visits.

I, on the other hand, take a more cautious approach to vaccination. Liam has an allergic history, meaning that his immune system is already on red alert, so I don't like to tax his body with challenges it doesn't need. I also lost a dog in the past due to an immune deficiency, manifesting as cancer, which makes me leery of providing any kind of medication or treatment the animal doesn't need. In my mind, if a vaccine causes more harm than potential benefit, I don't want to provide it.

I've done a little digging on this vaccine, and apparently leptospirosis has been found in sea lions dead on the Oregon coast (see this link). It's reasonable for people who live on the coast and who allow their dogs to run around loose on the coast to obtain vaccination. Their off-leash dogs at the beach all day long may stumble across contaminated urine, and they may get sick.

However, Liam goes to the beach very rarely, perhaps once per year, and this vaccine lasts for only six months. I'd have to vaccinate him over and over again, possibly exposing him to challenges his immune system doesn't need, for a risk that's pretty remote. When he does go to the beach, he's rarely off the leash and he's not allowed to drink standing water he finds. Most of the time, he's either running at top speed off leash or walking nicely on leash. I feel it's more likely he'd damage his immune system through vaccination, rather than obtaining protection from the shot.

On the day in question, Liam was also scheduled to receive a "core" vaccine for a common upper respiratory illness. According to many veterinary experts (including this one), vaccines like this shouldn't be given in a mix-and-match fashion with other vaccines, as mixing can up the risk of a reaction. Mixing may also make both vaccines less effective. I was a little surprised that this wasn't mentioned, but the bossy tech I was working with seemed hell-bent on vaccination, so she might not have thought to discuss the opposing view. She didn't seem interested in explaining as much as commanding.

I can be a little plucky when pushed, and in the end, I rejected the vaccine, and I wasn't really nice about it. I also haven't been back to this specific office. I know that the staff there was trying to protect Liam, but I just dislike the idea that they were trying to pressure me into taking something Liam didn't need, and that might have hurt him in the long run. I think he deserves better, and I'd like to think that I know my dog's risk for disease a little better than does a stranger. Practicality should trump ideology, in my humble opinion.

For more information on this vaccine, check out this article and this one. They present somewhat opposing views, and might make for good fodder for conversation with a veterinarian.

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