Q: We just got a new Labradoodle puppy from a top breeder, and she made us sign a contract saying, among other things, that we wouldn’t give him a lepto vaccine. Our veterinarian says we need to give him this vaccine, though. We don’t want to break our contract. What should we do?
A: In my 20 years as a veterinarian I’ve never seen a puppy contract that was enforced on the subject of vaccinations. Breeders are justifiably concerned about buyers who would breed their puppies in the future, as this could lead to increased competition and possible economic hardship.
The decision to administer vaccines, however, has always been determined by veterinarians in consultation with the legal owners of the pet, as this varies depending on the geographic locale and overall risk profile of the pet in question.
Your breeder’s concern is the fact that the leptospirosis vaccine has historically been associated with a higher risk of vaccine reactions, especially in tiny breed dogs. Though the vaccine has gone through several revisions during the 20 years it has been commonly recommended and is no longer considered a higher-than-average-risk vaccine, many breeders continue to fear the possibility of a reaction.
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At issue, however, is that leptospirosis is a serious disease whose prevalence has dramatically increased over the past few years here in South Florida and elsewhere. Here’s some basic info:
The bacterium called the Leptospira organism is spread through soil, water and the urine of infected animals (these include opossums, raccoons, rodents, dogs and humans). It causes the disease we call leptospirosis in dogs, which results in fever, depression, joint pain and ultimately, organ failure.
If caught early, leptospirosis responds to antibiotics. If not, a pet can die. In fact, my pug developed leptospirosis earlier this year and almost died of kidney failure as a result.
But should your Labradoodle be vaccinated? In its 2011 guidelines, the American Animal Hospital Association considered the lepto vaccine a “noncore” vaccine. As such, its use is limited to dogs in areas with known geographic occurrence who are at reasonable risk of exposure. This includes South Florida dogs, who are considered to have a relatively high risk of exposure.
Because this disease can be spread to humans, it’s especially important to have a conversation with your veterinarian about whether this vaccine is right for your family. Your breeder doesn’t deserve a say.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.