Muddy Dog Runs Causing Canine Illness

June’s near-constant rains may have helped make dogs in New York City critically ill. In recent weeks, several otherwise healthy dogs are believed to have died from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted in several ways: through bites, contact with the urine of an infected animal, or exposure to contaminated soil, food, or bedding.

"Leptospirosis crops up periodically all over the country," says Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine at ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. "It’s more prevalent in wetter regions and less of a risk in cool, dry areas." Outbreaks increase during periods of heavy rainfall because the Leptospira family of bacteria thrives in stagnant or slow-moving water. Dog runs with poor drainage that also lack a source of fresh drinking water create ideal conditions for catching the disease.

The ASPCA urges dog owners to be on the lookout for the following symptoms: fever, vomiting, poor appetite, lethargy, coughing and labored breathing. Infected dogs may become jaundiced (yellowing of the eyes and skin) or stop urinating if disease is severe. Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics, but prompt medical attention is vital as the disease can be fatal and is transmissible to humans.

Fortunately, there is a leptospirosis vaccine—talk to your vet about whether vaccinating is good idea for your dog. "Like other vaccines, there may be a higher rate of adverse reactions in small-breed dogs," says Dr. Murray. "The vaccine should be administered separately from other vaccinations and in two stages—one shot followed by a booster two or three weeks later."

Furthermore, "when outdoors—whether at the dog run or by a pond—dog owners must be vigilant about not letting their pets drink stagnant water," warns Dr. Murray. "We recommend the leptospirosis vaccine, but don’t allow it to make you lax. Because there are many strains of the disease, vaccination does not guarantee absolute protection. Always bring fresh drinking water when you take your dogs on outings."