PARAMUS, New Jersey - A potentially deadly disease is spreading among dogs in Northern New Jersey, officials said Monday, and veterinary groups are warning owners to be aware of the symptoms and to take steps to keep their pets safe.
At least five dogs in Paramus have been diagnosed with a bacterial disease called leptospirosis, which doctors say can be fatal disease and can be transmitted to humans.
"The disease is definitely present in our area," said Dr. Benjamin Davidson, of BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Paramus. "That could be in part because it's been an unusually warm winter for us."
The disease tends to be transmitted through the urine of wild animals, and dogs often get infected in areas with creeks, puddles, ponds and other places where there is a lot of standing water. The water aids in keeping the bacteria alive.
If left untreated, it could lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and death. Symptoms include bleeding from the nose, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Vets say the earlier the disease is identified, the better the prognosis will be. If your dog contracts the disease, doctors recommend that owners visit a physician. Also, humans should wash their hands after taking dogs for a walk.
Dr. Davidson said there are two principles to keep in mind to guard against leptospirosis: Carefully observe your pet for any changes in behavior, and make sure to talk to a veterinarian about anything that doesn't seem right.
Here are some tips:
-- Be on the lookout for these possible signs of the disease: Fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, increased urination or an inability to urinate. While these also can be signs of other health problems, they're all good reasons to take your dog to the veterinarian.
-- Dogs tend to get leptospirosis in muddy, wooded areas, so take caution when going for hikes. Don't allow your dog to swim in these areas or lap up water from a puddle.
-- Dogs can be vaccinated for leptospirosis, and Dr. Davidson strongly recommends talking to your primary care veterinarian about getting the vaccine.
-- Since the disease is carried by rodents, do everything you can to keep your backyard rodent-free. Keep grass mowed and dispose of trash properly.
Leptospirosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics if caught early, so keeping a watchful eye is important. More advanced cases can be treated with dialysis.
"The sooner you start the antibiotic treatment, the better the chances for a good outcome,," Dr. Davidson said. "That's why it's important to keep an eye on your dog and get to the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble."