The very wet first half of the year across the east coast of Australia has prompted an urgent warning from pet insurers about a bacterial disease dogs can catch from ponds and puddles.
Leptospirosis can cause severe health complications in humans and dogs, with early warning symptoms including fever, vomiting and diarrhea or shivering.
Ponds or puddles contaminated with rodent urine carrying the disease may look tempting to dogs keen for a drink or a splash.
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Pet Insurance Australia warns it’s had some claims in the last year for up to $3000 to treat the disease in pets.
Vaccines are available and pet owners are urged to get on top of any rodent problems at home or be on the lookout in areas with high construction.
“We strongly advise dog owners, particularly those in rain-affected areas around Australia to seek this vaccination from their local veterinarian,” the insurer’s Nadia Crighton said.
“This is certainly becoming a big problem and pet owners do need to be vigilant in keeping their pets safe.”
Pet owners were warned to keep their dogs on a lead, keep them out of ponds, puddles, flooded parks or muddy areas and remove leftover food scraps around the house.
When wet weather sparked last year’s mice plague in rural NSW, health services saw a spike in leptospirosis cases in humans.
The disease can lead to kidney failure and meningitis in humans and people can catch it the same way as their four-legged mates: in contaminated water and mud.
Last month, Dr Andrew Cornwell from Cardiff Veterinary Hospital warned a positive case had been confirmed in the Hunter region and urged pet owners to consider getting their animals vaccinated against the disease.
“We’re fortunate enough in this country to have a vaccine available to help protect animals,” Cornwell told 7NEWS.com.au
“Puppies can have their first dose of the vaccine at six weeks and a second at nine weeks, while adult dogs can receive a yearly booster shot.”
Cornwell added that although the vaccines were not typically part of a pet owner’s core vaccination program, the shots are widely available at veterinarians across the country.
How to protect your dog
Chief Veterinarian at RSPCA Dr Liz Arnott told 7NEWS.com.au, that given the high fatality rate of the disease, it is crucial to seek medical attention if your dog becomes ill.
“Anywhere where a rat may have urinated is a possible exposure site for the disease, this includes places like communal drinking water and puddles, so it is a good idea to replace drinking water often to be sure,” she said
“But unfortunately, it is hard to know if your dog has been exposed to the bacteria until they are unwell.
“One of the first signs of exposure is lethargy. Other common symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, as well as loss of appetite.
“If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate veterinary attention.
Liz also reminded pet owners there were vaccination options for those dogs deemed at a high risk.
“General advice on vaccinations is to consider the individual risk with your veterinarian,” she said.
“We don’t normally vaccinate just for vaccines’ sake, but where there’s a geographic risk of exposure or a lifestyle where there’s a risk then you should definitely speak to your vet about vaccination.”
She also added that pet owners should be mindful that humans can also contract the disease.
“For this reason, it is important to practice good hygiene and to wash your hands after dealing with your pet and their urine,” she said.