Nova Scotia

Vet warns of rise in leptospirosis cases in dogs around Halifax

A Halifax-area veterinarian is advising local dog owners to take precautions due to a spike in cases of leptospirosis — an infectious disease that's transferable to humans.

Bacterial disease causing fever, rash, diarrhea can be spread to people

Dogs can contract the disease by drinking contaminated water or through scratches on their skin coming into contact with contaminated soil or other substances, veterinarian Tara Riddell says. (Stephanie VanKampen/CBC)

A Halifax-area veterinarian is advising local dog owners to take precautions due to a spike in cases of leptospirosis — an infectious disease that's transferable to humans.

"It's a bacteria that can cause some really severe illness in dogs," said Tara Riddell, a veterinarian with the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic.

"And we're seeing a lot more of it this year than we have in previous years."

The clinic, which gets emergency referrals from veterinary clinics across the Halifax Regional Municipality, has seen 20 to 30 cases of confirmed or suspected leptospirosis in the last two or three months, said Riddell. 

Staff there normally only encounter a handful of such cases each year.

Tips to minimize risk

Dogs can contract an infection several ways, including by drinking contaminated water or if scratches on their skin come into contact with contaminated soil, said Riddell.

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She recommends dog owners talk to their vet about whether it makes sense to get their pets vaccinated against the disease.

The vaccine protects against four types of leptospirosis but since there are many more varieties of the bacteria, vaccinated dogs can still be infected.

Getting rid of standing water on your property can help because it can be contaminated by urine from raccoons or other rodents, said Riddell.

Dog owners are urged to take their pets to a vet if they notice symptoms such as a loss of appetite, drinking too much, vomiting or changes in a dog's bowel movements.

Human infections not tracked

A spokesperson for the province said it's hard to know how many human infections there have been in Nova Scotia this year.

Leptospirosis cases don't have to be reported to provincial authorities "because of its limited impact to public health," said Tracy Barron.

The disease is more commonly found in tropical and temperate climates, but outbreaks among humans have been reported in colder parts of the globe as well.

Health officials in New York City said in February that one person died and two others became severely ill after they were infected with leptospirosis.

All three cases occurred in the same Bronx neighbourhood, they said. The suspected cause was exposure to rat urine.

Symptoms of an infection in humans — including fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and skin rash — appear two or three days after coming into contact with the bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics.

With files from The Associated Press