Dog-Owners Warned of Deadly Disease

Dog owners are being warned of a deadly bacteria that could kill their pets and make humans sick.

The bacteria is called Leptospirosis, or Lepto, and veterinarians say it is a cause for concern.

Mice, rats and raccoons pass the bacterial infection through their urine. It is kept alive in moist environments like soil. Dogs become infected through small cuts in their paws. Standing water in the soil can become a breeding ground for infection.

Dr. Kristen Hennessey with Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists has treated local dogs who contracted Lepto and said it can be devastating.

"The last pet I diagnosed last year was a little white, fluffy dog that I really did not have on my radar as having Lepto because he didn't seem like a dog that would be out in the woods," she explained.

NBC Boston has learned lepto cases are on the rise in Massachusetts in pets. There were six cases in 2014, 14 cases in 2015 and at least 15 cases in 2016.

At least one person died in New York City a few weeks ago after contracting Lepto.

Dr. Hennessey said it can be easy for a human to catch it from their pet.

"When the dog comes into the house - if they urinate in the environment and it gets on an owner's hand or through a wound - they can get it from their pet," she said.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says there are one to two human cases of Lepto reported each year, but the infections are acquired internationally. The concern is greater for your four-legged friend, and the diagnosis can be difficult.

Symptoms in pets are non-specific to Lepto. They include diarrhea, fever, vomiting and lack of appetite.

If Lepto is not caught early on, dogs can go into liver failure and kidney failure, and they can die from it.

Antibiotics are effective if the diagnosis is made quickly.

There is a Lepto vaccine for dogs that needs to be administered once a year. Dr. Hennessey said the vaccine can reduce symptoms and it can prevent an animal from getting sick.

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