Non-Core Vaccines: Should You Get Them for Your Dog?

Dr. Garden

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Non-core vaccines are not for every dog. The diseases they protect against have less mortality than those of the core vaccines. The dog’s risk factors based on his lifestyle and exposure should determine if a non-core vaccine is needed. Examples of non-core vaccines include Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Influenza. 

Leptospirosis is the most common zoonotic disease in the world. The disease is caused by a spirochete bacteria that produces ever changing serovars. Vaccines containing multiple serovars provide protection from infection for about 12 to 15 months. It is best to give the vaccine by itself and not in combination with other vaccines in order to reduce adverse effects. Leptospirosis is widespread in mammals and reptiles. Common reservoirs include rats, racoons, skunk, possum, cattle, horses, pigs, and cats. These animals will shed the bacteria in their urine. If a dog or person comes into contact with the urine, the bacteria can infect them through their skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. Dogs are exposed by drinking water from lakes, ponds, and streams contaminated with an infected animal’s urine. Dogs in rural areas are at greater risk although recent studies have shown a sharp increase in urban areas. This is thought to be due to increased exposure to racoons and cats carrying the organism. More cases are seen in the fall due to greater dispersion of wildlife. 

Once infected with Leptospirosis, 20% of dogs will die and 20% will have chronic kidney disease for the rest of their lives. If they recover, they will shed the bacteria in their urine for many months. Symptoms of the disease are fever, lethargy, jaundice, increased drinking and urination, acute kidney failure, and liver damage. It can be diagnosed by blood and urine tests. Leptospirosis can be treated in a critical care setting with IV fluids and antibiotics such as Ampicillin and Doxycycline. Most dogs will recover but 20% will die of septicemia, pneumonia, or kidney failure. Leptospirosis is the most common cause of acute renal failure in dogs today. Big dogs and little dogs get it. Country dogs and city dogs get it. It is preventable. 

Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and Parainfluenza virus are combined into a single vaccine often referred to simply as the Bordetella vaccine. This vaccine is advised for dogs boarding at kennels, going to doggie daycare facilities or visiting groomers. Both of the aforementioned organisms will cause a serious form of tracheobronchitis, also known as “kennel cough”. Bordetella infection can lead to pneumonia in some cases. Symptoms present as a loud harsh nonproductive cough accompanied by a serous nasal discharge and poor appetite. The disease is spread via oral nasal transmission by direct contact, aerosolization, or fomite contact. Tracheobronchitis can be treated with antibiotics and cough.suppressants but the disease can last for weeks and is highly contagious to other dogs. The intra nasal and intra oral forms of the vaccine have been shown to be most effective and safe. 

Canine Influenza Virus started in 2004 with an outbreak in a kennel of racing Greyhounds. Most cases are mild with fever and cough as the common signs. However, mortality rates with Canine Influenza can range from 1 to 10% due to resultant pneumonia and pulmonary hemorrhage. These patients will have soft coughs, fever, lethargy, anorexia, and a heavy nasal discharge. Race tracks, kennels, and other environments where dogs are housed together are at greatest risk. The disease is easily transmitted since the virus is shed before clinical signs develop. Puppies, elderly dogs, and those with co-morbidities are most afflicted. Supportive treatment with antibiotics and nebulization will help some dogs recover, but not all. The disease can be prevented with vaccination, keeping kennels clean, and avoiding overcrowding. 

In conclusion, non-core vaccines should be advised only for those dogs whose lifestyle, age, and health status put them at risk to contract one of these diseases. The immunity imparted from non-core vaccines lasts for about a year. Therefore, over-vaccination is not a problem with the non-core vaccines. 

Dr. Teresa Garden is owner/chief veterinarian of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service conventional and holistic veterinary clinic located in the Richmond Heights/Maplewood area.  AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone 314-781-1738