Romp with caution at Brooklyn dog parks

The Brooklyn Paper
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Here’s another reason to hate rats: Their pee could kill your dog.

Health officials and pet owners in North Brooklyn are on the alert after a report last week that two dogs may have died from leptospirosis, a disease that can be passed on to canines through water tainted by rat or mice urine.

The city’s Department of Health said this week that the cases in Brooklyn are only suspicious for leptospirosis, and are still under investigation.

The Daily News said a six-year-old rat terrier called Parker died within days after romping at one of the dog runs in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, particularly muddy and wet after June’s heavy rains.The dog’s owner, Aaron Goodman, said the his sweet pup stopped eating, turned yellow and ultimately suffered severe kidney failure, according to the report.

Also called Weil’s disease, leptospirosis is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. It is spread primarily through contact with water or soil contaminated by the urine of infected animals. The bacteria enter the body through the eyes or nose, or through wounds and cuts in the skin. In New York City, rodents and other small mammals – raccoons, skunk, opossums, for example — are thought to be the reservoir of the bacteria, the agency said.

The first signs of the illness in dogs are vomiting, depression, weight loss, lethargy, muscle pain and sometimes diarrhea or bloody urine. Humans may contract the disease, but rarely from dogs. Rat handlers and sewer workers are among those at greater risk for contacting the disease.An average of one to two cases in humans per year are reported in the city, the Health Department said.In 2007, the most recent year for which the data is available, 17 dogs were infected with leptospirosis, according to the agency.

Pet owner Rob Maher, co-owner of District Dog, a boutique and spa for dogs and cats in Greenpoint, said he’s been keeping his own pets grounded since word spread of the illness. “My dogs haven’t really been to the park,” he said.

“It’s one of those situations where you have to be extremely cautious,” he continued. He’s been advising his customers to steer clear of areas with puddles, and let the parks completely dry out before letting their dogs frolic.

Laurie Bleier, director of the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network, sent out a mass mailing alerting pet owners of the suspected threat. She said all manner of potentially harmful bacteria lurk in parks and dog runs across the borough. “Everyone should talk to their vets about the best vaccination strategy for their pet,” she advised.

For more information on leptospirosis, see the fact sheet at

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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