Alarm has intensified among some New York City dog owners in recent days as reports circulated of canine health risks posed by the city’s legions of rats.
In the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, a corner of McCarren Park that is used as a dog park has been temporarily closed for maintenance after rumors of an outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread by rat urine, lit up the social networks. The bacteria can become infected in puddles and damp places, and animals can become seriously ill if they contract the disease. It can also make humans sick.
Lincoln Restler, a councilor who represents the area, tweeted last week that his office had received reports that several dogs who visited the park later died of the disease. The city’s health department said it couldn’t confirm the reports, but said it was working with the parks department to inspect rat activity in the park. Local veterinarians are supposed to report positive cases of leptospirosis to the Department of Health.
“I hope the actions taken by the Department of Parks and Health will address the conditions we have at McCarren,” Mr. Restler said in an interview.
The stories have sparked serious concern among dog owners and reminders from local veterinarians about the importance of vaccinating dogs that spend a lot of time in parks.
What is leptospirosis?
The disease is caused by bacteria present in the urine of infected rodents and humans and animals are susceptible to it.
The bacterium thrives in warm, moist environments and can survive in soil, water and food. It can enter the body through open wounds or mucous membranes, or by drinking infected water.
The bacteria usually pops up in late summer and fall, said Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, a veterinarian at local Bond Vet. Early symptoms are fairly nonspecific, including vomiting, fever, and lethargy, making it difficult to quickly diagnose an infection.
Symptoms usually begin a week or two after exposure and can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, leptospirosis can cause severe liver and kidney damage and can be life-threatening.
What is the prevalence of the disease in New York?
Reported cases of leptospirosis in people increased quite dramatically in the last year, a spike thought to be related to the spike in the rat population. At the same time, reported cases of canine leptospirosis have actually dropped.
The city reported 15 cases among residents last year, compared to an average of three cases per year over the previous 15 years. Health officials said most cases “had a clear history or risk factor that exposed them to an environment with a severe rat infestation.” At least one of the infected people has died. Human-to-human transmission is rare and none of the cases were linked to infection from a dog.
Among dogs, 15 cases were also reported last year, down from 29 in 2018. But health officials warned the drop could be because providers failed to report cases as they should. . Between 2006 and 2020, a total of 269 cases – eight to 29 cases per year – were reported to the Ministry of Health in the five boroughs.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on their website that the disease has been diagnosed more frequently in companion animals nationwide in recent years.
Dr Fadl, who works at Bond Vet’s Cobble Hill site, said the firm had not recently seen any cases there or at its Williamsburg site. Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for Animal Care Centers of New York, said the three shelters run by the organization, which together house about 6,000 dogs a year, also have not recorded an outbreak of the disease. leptospirosis.
How do I protect my dog (and myself)?
Above all, there is a vaccine. The initial dose is followed by a booster three to four weeks later, then administered annually. Dr. Fadl generally recommends it, especially given the increasing rat population in New York.
“If you have a private yard, if your pet is in the parks, if your pet likes to sniff the trash, drink from puddles, get a lepto shot,” she said. declared.
“It can save them, it can save you,” she added. “Especially if you have very young or elderly people who interact with this pet, it’s really important to talk to your vet about getting vaccinated.”
It is essential to stay away from puddles and pools that may contain rat urine. The same goes for keeping your dog away from real rats, as well as other small rodents, like squirrels, which can spread disease.
Dr. Fadl also recommended making sure your dog avoids communal water bowls and instead uses a travel bowl or bottle to provide fresh, uncontaminated water to drink.
How are city agencies and dog owners reacting?
The McCarren Park Dog Run is a “makeshift area” and not an official dog run, according to the Parks Department, but it is heavily used by local dog owners. The ministry said it had received only two 311 complaints about rodents in the park in the past year.
But the Parks Department on Friday replaced trash cans in the area with rat-proof metal canisters, had an exterminator inspect it, and began freshening up the area and replacing wood chips lining the floor on Monday.
The area was virtually deserted on a cold day last week. Area dog owners said they were staying away from the park after hearing stories circulating that a dog named Oreo had died of leptospirosis.
Humza Rizvi, 26, of Williamsburg, said fears about the spread of the disease and the park’s general lack of cleanliness had stopped him from taking his golden retriever Ollie there.
“It’s a dog park, so it’s going to be dirty,” he said. But, he added, “the sitting water and things that can apparently spread disease are still there.”
Billy Lucas, 32, of Williamsburg expressed similar concerns. He said he returned to the park with Wally, his German Shepherd mix, after noticing a sign warning of an ‘outbreak’ had been removed. (He noted that the sign he saw did not appear to have been posted by the city.)
“I assumed everything was fine,” he said. “Then a concerned dog owner came up to me and said a few puppies had died of lepto recently, so we all got out of there.”
Michael Malone, 28, from Williamsburg, said he double-checked to make sure his four-month-old Rio Australian Shepherd’s vaccinations were up to date and that he had received the leptospirosis shot.
“They encouraged us to get it because of the rats in the area,” he said. “They told us it’s not really common outside of town, but in town it’s a good idea to get it.”