Mini comment roundup, featuring Leptospirosis vaccination, Orijen, splenectomies in dogs, and a really crazy dog-washing box

OK, I totally know how much I have sucked lately at answering comments. I am REALLY SORRY. I have no excuse; I get behind and overwhelmed with them and then I hide in a corner under a box with my fingers in my ears and pretend they don’t exist. 

But these two can’t go unanswered:

1) can you please give me ammo on why not to use lepto (here in NH)? And any of the other needless vaccines that vets promote? A friend just lost her adored 8yrRidgeback (benign spleen removal, died 24 hrs after. clinic error possibly part of it) and will get a puppy someday and I want to expose her to the latest in vaccine protocol options). She feeds raw.
Also – why did you choose Orijen? I like it, still feed raw, but keep grain-free kibbles on hand for treats and bribes and I- forgot- to- thaw lapses. There are quite a few grain-free now which is great, if the great american public would only pay attention, but it’s hard to figure the best. I heard that Wellness (Core) got sold so am suspicious. I always apprieciate your knowledge & candor.
Have you had any spleen experience? My Tuza (RR) lost hers last year, is fine, after some on-going slightly mysterious off & on symptoms. And the sire of the dog that died lost his last year and is fine. Sre splenectomies epidemic??? I’m sending out heads ups to other related puppy buyers.
When is your ETA for new house? You must be so excited at the thought!!!!
All the best -Sandra

On this very special episode of Blossom, Joanna gets to answer questions from Sandra, who is one of my fave dog people of all time and who knows more about dogs than most DOGS do. So this is quite a moment ;).

OK, first, Lepto. Lepto is honestly one of the ways I choose my vets: If a vet gets red in the face and starts talking about the fact that every dog needs lepto vaccines and how it’s our duty to protect our dogs against this terrible disease and how a puppy they saw six months ago died of Lepto, the chances I will re-book an appointment are about zero. Lepto is a disease we have PLENTY of information about, and vets have no excuse for not knowing their stuff.

Leptospirosis itself is a very icky disease. There is no question about that. I am not someone who thinks that dogs should just be allowed to get sick and get over it because that’ll help their immune systems or something; if one of my dogs was diagnosed with advanced Lepto I would go into an incredible freak-out panic and she’d be at Tufts in ICU before you could spit. Lepto tends to attack the liver and kidneys and if it is not caught in time it can be deadly. Fortunately, it is treatable with antibiotics, but the disease is rare enough that even very good vets can miss it and it can get very advanced before it’s treated. 

The nastiness of Lepto is what makes vets insist on vaccinating for it. They’ll tell you that you need to do this for the sake of the dog, just like we do shots for distemper or parvovirus. But Lepto is NOT a virus, and that’s why the vaccination picture is so unclear. It’s a bacteria. It’s actually a spirochete, which is a long skinny bacteria shaped like a twirly candy cane. Unfortunately, it’s not very sweet in what it does. 

Vaccinations against viruses are something doctors and scientists have figured out how to do REALLY well. As long as the virus is relatively stable, they can knock out a very effective, often life-long, vaccine in a few months or even weeks. Even for viruses that change frequently, like flu, they can do a surprisingly decent job of creating a rotating vaccine series. 

Viruses for bacteria are MUCH, MUCH harder to create. Bacteria are easy to kill, hard to vaccinate against. This has to do with factors that would require me to go back into my notes from Cell Biology and Immunology, and those notes THANKFULLY burned up (one of the few things I’m glad are gone, so they don’t stare at me from the shelf and mutely accuse me of things relating to the fact that my degree is currently being used to wipe dogs’ feet at the door), so I am going to condense it into “It’s really tricky and prone to failure whenever you try to vaccinate for a bacteria.”

And, frustratingly, even when you do come up with a decent bacterial vaccine, it only works for a few months. In the case of Leptospirosis, the vaccine definitely lasts under 12 months, possibly under six.

So that’s the first problem: The vaccine only works for a few months.

Second, and this is one of the other problems with bacteria, there are lots of strains of Lepto, and the current vaccines lag behind what’s actually causing outbreaks.

Outbreaks of disease tend to play leapfrog with vaccinations. What often happens is that there will be a Big Bad Situation, and into that outbreak will come our heroes, immunologists with red spandex suits and “I” on their chests. They’ll test a bunch of dogs, find that strains A and B of the Big Bad disease are causing it, and spend years developing a good vaccine against A and B. They fly back in, vaccinate a ton of dogs, and A and B will largely disappear from the population.


But… with the absence of A and B, strains C and D have lots of room to stretch their legs and have a dance party. And before you know it there’s another outbreak, this time of C and D.

Back fly our heroes, test the dogs, develop a vaccine, and everybody gets vaccinated for C and D.

Which… you guessed it… leaves room for A and B to come roaring back.

This tends to happen over a timeframe of several decades. And eventually somebody creates a vaccine with A, B, C, AND D in it, which will be hailed as a breakthrough and given to everybody, and all will be well, until a few resistant A bacteria mutate into E and F.

Where we are at with Lepto right now, as I understand what I am reading, is the recurrence of A and B, which had not been seen for years. All vaccines except some of the Fort Dodge lepto vaxes are currently only for C and D. Fort Dodge has ABCD, so that’s the only one anyone can currently recommend, except for…

The third major problem with Lepto vaccines, which are that they are associated with a TON of side effects.

Lepto vaccines have killed thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of puppies across the country. Severe reactions are seen most often in the toy breeds but nobody’s safe. The vaccine is strongly associated with anaphylaxis (a severe and fatal allergic reaction) and you can lose whole litters to it. It’s not great for adults either but they seem to be able to tolerate it at least marginally better.

The fourth problem with Lepto vaccine is not actually a problem; it’s a good thing. And that is that Leptospirosis is a rare disease and the majority of the country has zero cases per year.

The upshot of the whole thing is this:

If you are in a state that has a current Lepto problem, and your dogs are likely to be exposed  (Lepto is spread in rat urine, and some dogs are just simply never going to encounter that), the only “right” way to vaccinate is AFTER 12 weeks at an absolute minimum, using a vaccine with ALL FOUR STRAINS, and repeating EVERY SIX MONTHS. 

Has any vet ever told you that you should use a different brand? Anbody ever told you that you’d have to come back in six months for a Lepto booster? Nobody’s ever told me that. They just push the super-combo vaccine, without telling me that the Lepto they’d be giving would be largely ineffective right off the bat and would be totally ineffective in a few months. 

Bottom line: Vaccine protection against Lepto is an illusion AND it’s dangerous for your dog. If you are genuinely concerned about it and are willing to risk the vaccine, you will need to be your dog’s own best advocate and insist on frequent re-vaccination and on brand selection for all four strains.

Personally, even though there IS Lepto in Massachusetts, I won’t vaccinate for it. I keep the disease in the back of my mind and I know the symptoms (vomiting, fever, jaundice, kidney function decline). In the same way that because I live here I am very, very quick to suspect tick-borne disease, I would also be quick to ask for a Lepto test if I had a hot and vomiting dog. 

Moving on to Orijen: I have a better selection of foods around here than most, but there are still some I can’t get. I have relatively easy access to Nature’s Variety Instinct, Orijen, Taste of the Wild, Wellness CORE, By Nature canned, Solid Gold Barking at the Moon, and B.G. (Before Grain). I can’t get EVO, the new Canidae grain-free, Artemis, Acana, and some of the others. 

I rejected Taste of the Wild and By Nature simply because I don’t like their parent companies – Taste of the Wild is made by Diamond and By Nature is made by Blue Seal.

I tried Solid Gold Barking at the Moon and Clue seemed to react badly to it; my best guess is that she can’t tolerate the high proportion of potato. So that knocked off Solid Gold, B.G. (which has both white and sweet potato very high in the ingredients list), and Nature’s Variety Instinct (which doesn’t have potato but uses TONS of tapioca which is also a root starch).

That left me with Wellness CORE and Orijen. I just happened to grab the Orijen first and I’ve been very pleased with it and so I haven’t even tried the CORE yet. I think CORE is a good food and I really like the fact that they don’t want you to feed it to growing puppies. Most of the other brands are like “Sure! Feed it to anyone!” and it’s VERY hard to feed a growing puppy correctly if you’re going grain-free. The foods are so nutrient-dense that they can very easily cause growth that is too fast; in order to keep a puppy appropriately ribby and slow-growing you have to feed such tiny amounts that the puppy is going to feel starving all the time. I’d only feed a puppy a true raw diet, not a gain-free kibble.

I will say that I think the feeding recommendations on Orijen are insane. I’m feeding literally a FOURTH of what is recommended for adult dogs my dogs’ sizes, and Clue is already getting too fat. Ginny is a picky enough eater that she’s not fat, but she’s definitely more padded than she’s EVER been. I have had Bronte up at the recommended amount and she’s putting on 1-2 lb per week. Which for a dog who should be 35-ish pounds is a LOT. She still needs a couple of pounds but I can already see that I’ll have to cut her way back within a few weeks. 

Spleens: Sterling and I actually talked about this a few years ago and yes, I do think you are on to something. I’ve heard of far too many dogs with splenic torsions and blood disorders that end up getting splenectomies. The Dane I bred and sold whose owners lost him to immune-mediated hemolytic anemia should have had his spleen removed but he died; the vet dropped the ball on that one in a pretty major way and the owners were already thousands deep thanks to improper diagnoses and I didn’t want to push any harder than I already was for them to get ultrasounds and go in for surgery. But I still think he maybe could have made it if they had checked and probably removed the spleen. 

I am not sure if we’re seeing MORE spleen things or if it’s that animal medicine and owner expectations are catching up with human medicine and expectations. Used to be that a dog would just look poorly for a few days and then die; dogs died all the time so nobody thought too much of it. Now we are very unprepared to accept that and we push very hard for diagnostics, and we are supported in that by animal ultrasound centers and referral surgeons and so on. There’s no question that I’m hearing a lot more about immune-mediated and autoimmune EVERYTHING lately (Addisons, Cushings, IMHA, thyroiditis, etc.), but I honestly can’t say if that’s a sign that the diseases are increasing or that our awareness of them is increasing. 

But yes, I would definitely say that I’m uncomfortable with the fact that it seems like so many dogs are losing body parts on a routine basis. 

HOUSE: The downstairs is gutted and the electric is done. Most of the plumbing is done. Insulation was supposedly done yesterday and drywall will go in over the next week. We’ve encountered the usual difficulties with subcontractors (why are they so crazy? Is it like a requirement of being a subcontractor that you FORGET THAT YOU HAD TO PULL A PERMIT or that you SIT IN YOUR VAN ALL DAY SMOKING and then bill us for it?) but our general contractor is a great guy with an extremely high level of moral indignation – he figures that if he’s working like a dog there’s no way he’s going to tolerate anyone else slacking off – so the bad ones have been tattled on and replaced and I think we’re honestly doing very well. 

Once the major stuff is done, the work will slow down dramatically as the detail work (mud and tape, sanding, painting, an enormous amount of powerwashing, floors and doors and windows and so on) is done and the fixtures go in. We also have the major hurdle of money; when the job is 50% done we have to have a bank inspector come out and verify that it’s been completed and then release the next half of the building money. Our experience thus far has been that the gap between approval and actually getting the check is between three and four weeks. Our contractor can go into the hole to a certain extent if he knows he’ll eventually get paid, but if it goes over about ten or fifteen thousand (and we’re already at about three or four grand) he’s going to stop working. So we’re still thinking September 1 as a best-case scenario and September 15 or October 1 as worst-case. 

The VERY good news is that there’s been minimal disaster-findage. We really didn’t know what was going to be behind the walls, above the ceilings, etc. A true nightmare, for example, would have been termite or ant damage, because we’d HAVE to fix it and the insurance company wouldn’t have done anything for us. Ditto for existing rot or foundation damage. So the fact that none of those things has been discovered has been really a great blessing. We’re beginning to have at least a little bit of hope that we’ll come in relatively close to budget, which leaves nothing in our pockets but at least we’re not having to go around and beg for more money.

The dogs should be in there long before the humans are – as soon as the kennel room is up and functional (in another couple of weeks, we hope) they’ll be over there most days so they can get some exercise and sunlight and schmooze the carpenters. I’ll be over there too, acting as the painting subcontractor once the mudding and taping is all done. It won’t save us any money, because we’ll be paying me (and losing my freelancing income) but I like painting and I’ll be out of my mind with happiness to get out of this tiny shoebox charming apartment.


Erin wrote:

I totally thought of you when I saw this. I love perusing Time’s photos sometimes when I’m looking for inspiration. I wish I could find the story behind it because it looks, um… iffy as it is.

which is this photo:


And yes, I DO know what’s going on in the pic. Come ON. I KNOW EVERYTHING.

Is a video of the strange box with the sudsy dog, and it’s just as bizarre as it sounds.

I guess if you want to spend $20 to have your dog sprayed with a soapy hose and then rinsed for thirty seconds (!) more power to you, but (as should now be obvious) I don’t think it’s a great grooming job. You can do a lot better by yourself and I think a normal bath-and-blow-out by a groomer, which will be twice as much but will be sure to actually rinse the dog and includes skin-out brushing, is a much better value. 

But in terms of hilarious videos… seeing the dog wash guy naked in the machine was worth a lot.

15 thoughts on “Mini comment roundup, featuring Leptospirosis vaccination, Orijen, splenectomies in dogs, and a really crazy dog-washing box

  1. Interesting, as Brady has LOST weight since switching to Orijen about a month ago and I’ve had to up his food amount quite a lot. Yes, they’ve been eating Pro Plan Selects for a couple of years now which isn’t the best food, but was one of the only ones I could find that Brady didn’t have horrendously stinky farts with. They both also have very soft and stinky poops, and many eye boogers. I’m obviously not using Lizzie as any sort of indicator 😀 but am hoping that it all settles out with Brady sometime soon.

    Having tried raw diets several times, I can say with confidence that I’m best off finding a kibble that I can feel somewhat good about. And I have NO idea what to wean the puppies onto.

    • Raw ground tripe and goat’s milk.

      That is what I wean onto and I think it’s the best puppy food on earth (it seeds the gut with enzymes and good bacteria, it’s incredibly easy to digest, it keeps weight on but encourages them to grow slowly) but I realize it’s not for everyone.

      If you want to feed a commercial diet, think about weaning onto a good canned food mixed with evaporated milk (or goat’s milk if you can find it). Canned Canidae and Wellness and Solid Gold are high-quality with very few grains, and they fill puppies up without bulking them up.

      I wish I knew what to tell you about kibble for puppies, though. The brands I used to recommend have all either changed formulas or been sold or switched manufacturers. I’d think about Castor and Pollux Organix (Adult), maybe. The protein % is a little high for large breed puppies but should be OK for corgis. The Dog Whisperer kibble is made by C&P and is very similar to Organix adult and is more widely available.

  2. Wow, between reading about excessive splenectomies, the “pet spa” video and a past video post (compliments of Kate) regarding Neuticles I think people really have totally lost it. It’s time for a canine revolution!

  3. “Is it like a requirement of being a subcontractor that you FORGET THAT YOU HAD TO PULL A PERMIT or that you SIT IN YOUR VAN ALL DAY SMOKING and then bill us for it?”

    Yes, yes it is (I am officially an expert since I currently work with about 20 subcontractors). Might have something to do with the fact that 95% have drug and alcohol problems – and those that don’t are recovering addicts with tons of baggage.

    Glad YOU knew the permit had to be pulled, otherwise it probably wouldn’t have been!

  4. I switched to Orijen recently and was completely unsure as to how much to feed. I eventually settled on the lowest amount of the “inactive/less active” recommendations for her weight range even though our corgi mix is very active.

    So far she hasn’t gained or lost, and she loves the food much more than her old kibble.

    Maybe your dogs metabolisms just don’t handle the kibble very well since they have only ever had raw?

    • Maybe my dogs are just natural fatty fats?

      I have read that dogs who are in active training can’t keep weight on with the grain-free kibbles; it tends to work like the Atkins diet.

      I should also clarify that I am SUPER sensitive about weight. My acceptable range for dogs is, at least based on my experience thus far, several pounds under what most people think corgis “should” be. I don’t want them wasted but I do want them looking like hard working dogs with very little extra bulk.

      • Two of my three dogs eat Orijen, and both of them eat WAY less than the recommended amounts.

        One of them is a 9ish year old German shepherd who could literally live on air and who weighs about 80 pounds. She eats from 1.5 to 1.75 cups a day.

        The other is a nearly 2 year old Doberman who is nuclear powered, and about 65 pounds. She eats the same amount as the shepherd.

        Both dogs are in my opinion a good weight (which I think corresponds to your opinion on weight — I like my dogs lean).

        • it’s so interesting to read others’ experience with Orijen, and confirm my suspicion that individual metabolism plays a large role in how much the dog should be fed. I’d been meaning to mention this for the next comments roundup… my 5yo altered female Bluetick Coonhound was doing pretty well on the regular Canidae, plus as many raw meals as I could pull off. I switched her to Orijen (which we can only buy in either Phoenix or San Diego, 3.5hrs away) because grain-free made sense to me. I started off feeding her 1.5 cups a day when feeding kibble, and I was concerned that it’d be too much given her activity level and Joanna’s observations on how her dogs need to eat less that the mfg RDA. Well, in two weeks she looked to me like she was wasting away! (think Greyhound/Whippet) I was very confused. So I’ve increased her to 2cups a day when feeding kibble, and am happy to report that she still looks lean but now she’s back to *solid* healthy lean, not skeletal lean. LOL! I’m very interested in that Canidae Grain-Free, because the local feed store I like carries it, and it’d cost significantly less than the Orijen. (husband’s hours @ work got cut, and mine were halved, so we have to save wherever possible) Are the two comparable? I know I can read the labels but I’d love some informed, BTDT opinions.

          Oh, and Joanna, for the next roundup, I’d love to know what you’re feeding your cat. Mine is very touchy about any kind of change, and while she seemed to like the taste of the last meat-veggie-yoghurt (raw) potage I whipped up for EllieMae, she didn’t want more than a few licks’ worth. I feel guilty that Ellie’s getting the lion’s share of the healthy food, while Whiskey’s surviving on Pro Plan.

      • you know, I’ve been thinking about this, maybe that supplement you give them (the peanut butter-coconut oil-salmon oil-Mirra Coat balls) is so high in calories that when combined with the Orijen it puts weight on super-fast? I haven’t started supplementing Ellie yet, so I wonder if that’s what’ll happen when I do. Just a thought…

  5. hey J! I just finished watching a new show called The Lazy Environmentalist, it’s available online at — check Lazy E 101 Lazy Groomer clips 1 & 2. He talked about and showed some environmentally-friendly ways to groom and feed pets (maybe you can write to him and see if he’ll do something on raw-feeding in a follow-up ep) and I immediately thought of you. There’s a water & shampoo saving device, and a blueberry-based natural fur whitener… anyway, I’d love for you to watch & comment. It’ll take your mind off of puppies for 20 minutes 😉

    • Cool! I don’t get Sundance but I will see if they eventually post the whole groomer episode.

      The bathing system is great. It really does save water and it gets the dogs much cleaner to boot.

      Neem shampoo is unnecessary. ANY shampoo kills fleas, and NO shampoo keeps on killing them. As soon as the dog is back in the home environment they’ll get right back on. Save your money and use a normal shampoo, and use Frontline or Capstar or Comfortis for the fleas.

      The one that really made me giggle was the Blueberry Facial. That’s a South Bark product and I’ve spoken to the developers of the shampoo (no, really, I did – they had a booth at Groom Expo in Hershey last year) and I’ve played with their products. They are natural like a Carvel Ice Cream Cake is natural. TONS of thickeners, artificial colors, fragrances, you name it. They have their stuff out in martini glasses so you can see that you can turn them upside-down and the products don’t drip – that’s nothing but a buttload of cosmetic thickeners used to make a product feel like a human conditioner or shampoo. The entire line is designed as a premium add-on to regular grooming services (“For an extra $15, we offer a Blueberry Facial and for $25 we’ll do a whole-body fruit conditioning treatment!”).

      The Blueberry Facial does smell delicious and it’s a good face scrub. I like it a lot. But environmentally sound? No.

      • hehehe, I figured you’d know what the straight poop was. The Prima machine did look extremely cool! Sorry, it was late and I’d just watched the program so I didn’t watch the clips (which turned out to not be all that helpful or informative). I wanted to smack that woman, she’s got her own grooming business but is the total opposite of you. Whenever he asked why you’d use or give a certain product to the dogs her reply was that “They” wouldn’t allow the products to be sold if they weren’t good for the dogs. gaaaaaaaaaah! It was nice to see that she cared about the dogs enough to try something new tho, I’ll give her that.

        Another thing the blonde guy said was that tennis balls are full of lead, and that letting your dog chew on them will introduce a lot of lead to their body, which is unhealthy. Is that true? I have to look that up… I figure natural rubber in toys is best for dogs anyway, in terms of durability, hygiene, etc. But lead in tennis balls freaked me out, not that Ellie ever gets them — she got hold of one once and tore it up in 5 minutes.

        I may just write to the show and suggest some other ways to be environmentally friendly, like the people who have backyard chickens who eat their kitchen scraps, reducing landfill waste. Feeding raw can be lazy and environmentally healthy too, since it reduces all that packaging, production & transport costs, and you can feed your dogs stuff like ears, heads, stomachs, that most humans don’t usually eat. 😀

  6. Thanks for the info on the Lepto, but I have a question prehaps someone here can answer. I recently lost a dog to lymes/nephritus, a month after she was diagnosed, the vet told me that she may have had lepto, which is really scary to me, I have a new puppy coming in 10 days, should I be concerned about having a new pup in a home, not knowing for sure if my dog had died of lepto or if it was a guess from a vet?

    • Hi –
      First, I am so sorry about your girl. We’re dealing with the consequences of a severe Lyme infection ourselves, so I know how terrible it is.

      I have no way of knowing if your dog had lepto, of course, but the good news is that lepto needs water to survive. Most dogs come into contact with it when they lick up rat or mouse urine, or (rarely) the urine of an infected dog. Lepto can’t survive in the environment as long as it dries out. So it should not still be active in your house or in your yard unless you’ve had persistent wet weather or your yard is constantly damp.

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