Chicago dog owners warned of leptospirosis bacteria spread by rodents

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Thursday, June 19, 2014
Leptospirosis crops up in Lakeview
Veterinarians are warning Chicago dog owners about leptospirosis, a disease that your dog can catch and pass on to humans.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Veterinarians are warning about leptospirosis, a disease that your dog can catch and pass on to humans.

A North Side veterinarian says it is especially a problem in Chicago because of the rodent population, and the Lakeview neighborhood is a hotbed for the disease.

Dr. Natalie Marks say that leptospirosis is a bacteria lives within the rodent population, and rodents put the bacteria into the water in the lakes, and puddles. Dogs can then get it from licking their feet and going through the water.

"It causes liver and kidney disease and sometimes liver and kidney failure. Untreated, this is a fatal disease, and it is potentially zoonotic, which means it can be transmissible to people," said Dr. Marks.

Nixson, a 13-year-old pug, is being treated for leptospirosis. He did receive the vaccine, but still got the disease. To make the diagnosis, vets must do a blood test.

"At first I thought, he's a dog, that's what dogs do. They eat nasty things and it doesn't agree with them- but it was a lot more than that," said Henry Weincek, Nixon's owner.

"Your dog might be vomiting, having diarrhea, not eating well, lethargic, and that can look like lots of other diseases. The key is catching it early," said Dr. Marks.

Vets say the dogs are contracting the disease from the urine of infected rats. People can get sick if they come in contact with an infected animal's urine or other bodily fluids, except saliva. You can also get it through urine-tainted water, soil, or food.

"Because their pet was exposed, they potentially can be exposed as well. Their pet can be kind of sentinel to what they are exposed to as well," said Dr. Bob Vasilopulos, Premier Veterinary Group.

In humans, Leptospirosis has a wide range of symptoms, including: high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. In Chicago, vets say most dogs are vaccinated, but it's good to double-check with your vet.

And leptospirosis isn't just a city problem - the disease is also found in farm animals and wild animals.