• Becky Piper

Leptospirosis in the Working Dog Population


Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the infection with a pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria of the Leptospirosis genus.

Infection can cause a variety of clinical signs ranging from mild non-specific disease to severe multi-organ failure resulting in death. Dogs can also shed (spread) the bacteria when infected without showing any signs of being unwell.

Several different "serovars" (term used to describe the specific strain of Leptospira) exist. The most likely serogroups (group of serovars very closely related) dogs in Europe are exposed to are Icterohaemorrhagiae, Australis, Canicola and Grippotyphosa.


The most commonly recognised cause of clinical disease in Europe is caused by the serogroup Icterohaemorrhagiae. This "host" for this is the rat. According to a study by Ellis in 2010, cases in the UK were over represented in farm and sporting dogs.

Dogs are the main host for the server Canicola, although clinical disease is now found to be rare in the UK. This is likely to vaccination.

The serogroup Australis has been detected in dogs in the UK. The maintenance host is pigs, dogs, hedgehogs and horses.

In mainland Europe, particularly Germany, the serogroup Grippotyphosa has been particularly significant in dogs in rural environments. The maintenance host is rodents and wildlife.


Main risk factors for exposure to disease include swimming and drinking from outdoor water sources and hunting wildlife. Risk has also been found to increase after heavy rainfall or flooding.

Most commonly seen signs include vomiting, weakness, fever, jaundice, over drinking and over urination.


Several vaccinations are available in the UK made by many different companies. The choice of vaccination is often dependent on geographical locations and risk of exposure to particular serogroups.

The "bivalent' vaccine (Also known as Lepto 2) has been available in the UK since the 1980's and protects dogs against Canicola and Icterohaemorrhagiae. This involved having a "primary course" of two vaccines 2-4 weeks apart and an annual booster.

Also available more recently are the "tetravalent" vaccines. These vaccines (most commonly known as L4) protect against Canicola, Icterohaemorrhagiae, Australis and Grippotyphosa. This is a primary course of two vaccines 4 weeks apart then an annual booster.

The duration of immunity of the vaccine has been shown to be 12 months. Any evidence further to this timescale for immunity is lacking. Unfortunately the correlation between antibody levels and true immunity is very poor as antibodies do not persist for a long time. Therefore titre testing is not a reliable way to measure protection.

Here at Wensleydale Vets we stock both the bivalent and tetravalent vaccines. However, as routine give the bivalent (Lepto 2) vaccine. This is mostly due to geographical location and risk of serogroups in North Yorkshire. Any dogs that frequently travel to Europe, we would advise you to request the tetravalent (Lepto 4) vaccination.

We fully support the sporting and working dog community and after personally seeing and treating several cases of dogs infected with Leptospirosis we want to encourage and promote vaccination. We offer a discount for working dogs receiving LEPTO 2 ONLY . (NB. We require evidence of a shotgun license or letter on headed paper).

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