Pet owners warned of deadly bacterial disease killing dogs

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Pet owners are being warned about an infectious disease affecting dogs, with at least two deaths and several severe cases reported in Sydney.

A rise in leptospirosis infections has been detected across Sydney and in the NSW Hunter region, as well as parts of the Northern Territory — and it's partly due to major flooding events in recent months.

The harmful bacteria is transmitted from urine from rodents and is found in water sources including puddles, ponds and lakes.

"Wildlife and rodents both excrete the bacteria to water sources so it’s not that [the pets] have necessarily come in contact directly with rodent urine, but you would find this bacteria in most water sources where there’s wildlife and rodents," Dr Tim Hopkins from the Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH) told Yahoo News Australia.

Girl hugging white puppy on lead, black labrador looking sad
Dog owners are being warned about an increase in cases of leptospirosis infection, which can be fatal for animals. Source: Instagram/Facebook

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis can cause liver and kidney damage, and can also affect the nervous and respiratory systems, according to the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). But in many cases, it can lead to death.

Dr Hopkins, an emergency veterinarian, said there are "frequently fatal cases" because the damage caused to the kidney is often irreversible.

Leading animal welfare charity Companion Animal Network Australia (Australia CAN) is urging pet owners to be cautious when out and about with their dog and watch for signs of leptospirosis infection.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, jaundice, fatigue, abnormal urine and bleeding.

Although it is rare, unfortunately leptospirosis is chronically under-diagnosed, Dr Tim Hopkins said.

"Very small numbers are actually being recorded," he said.

"It’s chronically underdiagnosed because of low level of awareness in the community. We suspect the number of dogs who contract leptospirosis is far higher than what we have data for."

Sydney Animal Hospital recently issued an urgent warning after the tragic deaths of two dogs in Sydney —one on the northern beaches and another in the city's inner-west.

"With the risk of more rodents being around due to the current plague, dogs may come into contact with leptospirosis through contaminated stagnant water, such as in ponds or puddles, or through any direct contact with rodents," the clinic's website says.

Dog drinking from puddle on a lead with owner
The bacteria is found in water sources, including puddles, and often comes from rodent urine. Source: Getty

Leptospirosis outbreak in the Northern Territory

Meanwhile, in the Northern Territory, NT Health Director of the Centre for Disease Control, Dr Vicki Krause warned of cases detected in animals and also humans in the north of the country.

"Infection may occur through exposure to an animal or contaminated water, mud, soil or vegetation – especially after heavy rains during the wet season," Dr Krause said.

An outbreak during last year's wet season of 13 cases, mostly among workers in the cattle industry, was reported. At least six cases have already been in the territory so far in 2022.

"Treating the cases by a specialist is really important for saving these animals," Dr Hopkins told Yahoo.

"It’s certainly worth increasing people’s awareness of that risk and also what to do if their dog or cat is diagnosed."

CAN warned outdoor activities such as walking, camping and swimming may increase the risk of infection.

The bacteria can enter a dog’s body via cuts or abrasions on the skin, or through mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes, according to the AVA.

Sydney pup in critical condition

Emma Bagnall recently rushed her usually playful 12-week-old puppy Storm to the vets following a bout of illness brought on by excessive vomiting and diarrhoea.

The Swiss Shepherd had been struck down with leptospirosis and is now being treated in intensive care at SASH, Ms Bagnall revealed online

He was critically ill with kidney and liver failure, and also jaundice.

It's beleived Storm likely picked up the disease from a creek at her family property at Speers Point in the Lake Macquarie region.

Another woman pleaded with dog owners on Facebook after her pup "drank from a bucket of rainwater that a rat had peed in".

The five-year-old chocolate Labrador is in critical condition.

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