New Jersey Sees Uptick in Leptospirosis, Disease That Can Kill Dogs

The same rat-borne disease that killed a man in the Bronx is killing dogs in New Jersey, and veterinarians are warning pet owners to be on alert.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection dogs can catch from wildlife like squirrels and rats. The disease passes through urine, which pets may lick up when drinking from puddles or other standing water.

River Edge resident Shawn Kucharski often takes his dog Hershey for a morning walk. He said he was taken aback by the number of dogs who have contracted the disease in recent months.

“It is concerning because they go around and sniff everything and touch everything,” Kucharski said.

Veterinarians at Blue Pearl in Paramus say they’ve seen a clear upsurge in cases.

"We’ve probably had five or six cases of leptospirosis over the course of the winter," Dr. Tara Fetzer of Blue Pearl said. "A much higher number than we normally see."

Veterinarians believe the rise in cases is likely due to a warm winter — people have taken their dogs outside more often than they normally would during the cold months.

Still, two dogs have died, and humans can get leptospirosis too. A man in the Bronx recently died after contracting the disease from a rat.

The New Jersey Dept. of Health doesn't track cases of leptospirosis in dogs, but it says there haven't been any human cases in the state in the last five years.

Pet owners should look for signs and symptoms of the disease in their dogs, such as fever lethargy, loss of appetite, increased urination and inability to urinate. It’s also a good idea to be careful at dog parks, where dogs congregate and can pass along illnesses.

To avoid getting leptospirosis, people should practice good hand hygiene and avoid contact with pet urine.

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