Nova Scotia

Halifax woman warns of leptospirosis after her husky dies

A Halifax woman whose therapy dog died this month after contracting leptospirosis is warning dog owners to be vigilant about the infectious disease that's on the rise in the municipality.

Emergency clinic says it's 'overrun' with cases of the infectious disease that can spread to humans

Pippin, a therapy dog that visited kids at Ronald Mcdonald House, died earlier this month after contracting leptospirosis. (Submitted by Brenda Potter)

A Halifax woman whose trained therapy dog died this month after contracting leptospirosis is warning dog owners to be vigilant about the infectious disease that's on the rise in the municipality.

Two weeks ago, Brenda Potter noticed that Pippin, her 11-year-old Siberian husky, wasn't eating. She took him to the vet but it was already too late. Two days later, Pippin's kidneys started to fail and Potter said goodbye. 

Potter, who has been breeding Siberians since 1977, doesn't know how he came into contact with the infectious bacteria and that's what worries her the most. Pippin was a trained therapy dog that visited kids at the Ronald McDonald House every week. 

"Talk to anybody who knows the dog, there's just something special about him," Potter said. "I want Pippin's death to make a difference."

Brenda Potter says 11-year-old Pippin was much more than just a prize-winning show dog. (Emma Smith/CBC)

'Overrun' with cases 

Dogs can contract leptospirosis by drinking contaminated water or coming in contact with other infected dogs through their urine. 

Potter says the unusually warm weather and growing number of rats in her Fairview neighbourhood likely didn't help. She wants municipal council to do more to curb the rat population.

Gordie, a Bernese mountain dog, is in the hospital after his owners noticed he wasn't eating and was lethargic. (Submitted by Teresa Burns)

Tara Riddell, a veterinarian with the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic, told CBC News in August that the clinic used to encounter a handful of cases of leptospirosis a year. 

When CBC News called the emergency clinic Sunday, all of the veterinarians were busy and hospital manager Wade Smith said more staff were being brought in to help

Smith said the clinic was treating eight suspected cases of the disease. 

"We're overrun with it right now basically, like we couldn't be prepared to have this many suspect and positive cases," he said.

What to look for

Teresa Burns, who also lives in Halifax, is worried about her Bernese mountain dog, Gordie, who was taken to the emergency clinic Thursday.

Sunday afternoon, Burns said the vet was treating him for leptospirosis but his tests results had only improved slightly. 

The Burns family noticed something wasn't right when two-year-old Gordie lost his appetite and was lethargic. They live near Long Lake and visit Point Pleasant Park regularly. Burns is advising people to avoid those areas for now. 

Jan Gentile-Nugent put her dog Stanley on antibiotics for leptospirosis after she noticed he was drinking excessively. (Submitted by Jan Gentile-Nugent)

She's worried about Gordie and said his prognosis is uncertain. 

"He hasn't started to get better yet. His kidneys are failing," she said. 

Families taking precautions

Jan Gentile-Nugent's dog Stanley also contracted the disease, but was able to get antibiotics early. Gentile-Nugent said earlier this month she noticed Stanley was excessively thirsty and was even drinking out of the toilet, which he doesn't typically do.

She knows her family is lucky but she's warning her dog-loving friends to go to the vet if they notice anything odd in their pets' behaviour.

Brenda Potter now has only five Siberian huskies after losing Pippin on Oct. 13. (Emma Smith/CBC)

The family is also taking precautions so they don't contract the disease. 

"We've just been very careful to wash our hands and just keep our distance from him a bit this week," she said. 

Vaccine available

Potter has five other dogs, and gave them all antibiotics the night Pippin died. She said she's since completely disinfected her home and backyard and is planning to have the dogs vaccinated, too. 

There's a vaccine available, but it only protects against four types of leptospirosis. Since there are many more varieties of the bacteria, vaccinated dogs can still be infected.

Even with these extra precautions, Potter worries every time her dogs go outside. 

"I don't know what else people can do," she said. "How can I keep my dogs safe? How can you stop the dog from sniffing the ground? Really?"

About the Author

Emma Smith


Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email

With files from Ian Munroe


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