When clients bring us their new puppy, we’ll often hear them say something like, “Just give him the necessary shots; we don’t want to over-vaccinate.” Usually, this means the clients want only the two legally required vaccines — rabies and distemper (and maybe the Bordetella vaccine, which many groomers and boarders require) — but from a medical perspective, there is another vaccine for dogs living in Manhattan that is absolutely critical: the Lepto vaccine.
Lepto, short for Leptospira, is a family of microscopic, spiral-shaped bacteria that can infect dogs and people, wreaking havoc on the kidneys and liver. In most parts of the country, the vaccine for this bacteria is given based on the dog’s lifestyle. It’s predominately rural dogs — those that hunt or are around bodies of water often — that are considered at-risk. It seems counterintuitive, then, that such a vaccine would be recommended for the canine citizens of one of the largest metropolises in the world.
The cause of this seeming paradox is simple: Manhattan’s teeming rodent population. Lepto bacteria are harbored in wildlife like raccoons, opossums, deer, and (critically) rodents. When these animals urinate, the bacteria finds its way into water sources. For rural dogs, Lepto is contracted when they drink from or swim in infected waters. For dogs in the city, something as simple as stepping through an infected puddle or grabbing a piece of food that’s come in contact with street rats can be enough for a severe infection to set up.
While infected, dogs will spread the infection to other dogs and people (cats usually do not get sick from this disease). Therefore, if your dog experiences loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, or changes in urine production, it’s important to get them to a veterinarian for evaluation as soon as possible. Fortunately, antibiotics are quite effective against Lepto, but the best way to prevent it (other than leaving the city) is to vaccinate your dog against it annually. Don’t let fear of over-vaccination expose your dog to this unnecessary and often fatal risk.