Veterinarians are warning about a rise in cases of a bacterial disease that can kill dogs and can even spread to humans.
Experts say cases of leptospirosis are steadily rising in the Chicago area, due in large part to increasing rat populations and recent wet weather.
Lepto is a bacteria carried in rats and is often contracted by dogs through the consumption of standing water. The bacteria that causes leptospirosis is spread through the urine of infected animals and can live in water or soil for weeks to months.
“Our dogs are susceptible to lepto from consuming the water on the street or stepping in it in their paws and a lot of dogs have allergies this time of year and then licking themselves when they come in,” said Dr. Natalie Marks of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago.
Vets say lepto symptoms are similar to those of the flu, including vomiting and diarrhea. But if untreated, it can lead to kidney and liver failure and possibly death. Officials claim kidney failure affects 90 percent of dogs with leptospirosis and 10 to 20 percent of infected dogs suffer liver failure.
As an added concern, veterinarians also warn that people can become infected through contact with contaminated urine, water, soil and body fluids except saliva. The bacteria can enter through the skin, eyes, nose or mouth and areas where the skin is cut or scratched are especially susceptible.
“If we see a dog with lepto, we want to avoid any contact with that dog's urine,” Marks said.
Doctors recommend a vaccination for dogs, though some experts note it doesn’t always work, and extra vigilance by owners.
“If your dog is stepping in puddles outside, wiping them down with baby wipes when they come in, make sure they're not drinking contaminated water bowls in front of stores or dog park,” Marks said.