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A rat-infested area of a New York City park has been linked to several leptospirosis cases this month. Sadly, the bacteria-driven disease has led to the death of four dogs, according to the city council member representing the area.
While these particular cases are isolated to McCarren Park in Brooklyn, leptospirosis can infect your dog almost anywhere there is soil and water. Thankfully, there are safeguards, including a vaccine, you can take to protect your pup when you head outside or to your local dog park.
"Owners may want to consider having their dogs vaccinated against lepto if they visit public spaces where other animals might have urinated—and this is the case for most dogs," says Jenna Stregowski, RVT and Daily Paws' pet health and behavior editor. "Talk to your veterinarian about the risks of lepto in your area."
The Lowdown on Leptospirosis
The hook-shaped Leptospira bacteria lives in soil and water across the globe, but more so in warmer climates and areas with lots of rainfall. It spreads through the urine of infected animals, Stregowski says.
So dogs become infected when they come into contact with the tainted urine. That occurs when they drink contaminated water and soil; eat infected rodents; or touch other infected animals. They might ingest the bacteria if it attaches to their paws and lick it while grooming, Stregowski says. The most common cause is drinking infected water.
Leptospirosis can damage your dog's liver and kidneys and also cause symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, bloody urine, stomach aches, trouble breathing, and jaundice. It's treatable—the earlier the detection the better—with antibiotics but it can sometimes lead to a dog's death. Dogs can also transmit the sickness to humans, though that's not common, according to Stregowski.
What's Happening in New York?
City Councilman Lincoln Restler told the New York Daily News last week that four dogs had died after visiting the McCarren Park. He theorized the rats at the park may have peed in the standing water, putting the dogs who drank the water at risk of leptospirosis.
On Thursday, Restler said on Twitter the city's health department was investigating the potential outbreak. Meanwhile, the park was closed Monday as the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation began repairing the park's drainage and installing rodent-resistant garbage cans.
The health department also began working to exterminate the rats.
🚨🐶 McCarren Dog Run Update 🚨🐶@NYCParks is doing emergency repairs to improve dog run drainage & install rodent resistant garbage cans. These are interim solutions.
Safe pest extermination happening w/ @nycHealthy.
Dog run closing for repairs on Monday for up to 1 week. https://t.co/mt19by1ae4
— Council Member Lincoln Restler (@CMRestler) January 20, 2022
How You Can Protect Your Dog From Leptospirosis
There is a leptospirosis vaccine, and your veterinarian can help you decide whether it's right for your dog. It's not considered one of the core vaccines—like rabies—but Stregowski says more vets are recommending it because it can spread in both the rural wilderness and busy urban areas. It requires an annual booster.
Besides the vaccine, you can also minimize your dog's exposure to the harmful bacteria. If you've heard of leptospirosis outbreaks in a certain area, steer clear. Stregowski also recommends supervising your dog when she's outside, making sure she doesn't drink from puddles, eat things off the ground, or come into contact with any unfamiliar animals.
As always, contact your veterinarian if your dog is sick after they've been outside.