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Vets warn dog owners about threat of leptospirosis

Cases of a potentially deadly bacteria being reported throughout the country are prompting warnings from vets to pet owners.

Leptospirosis is a bacteria found in water that can cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys of dogs. It can also be transmitted from animals to humans.

In the past, vets treated "lepto" as a lifestyle disease that affected rural or hunting dogs, Dr. Richard Goldstein, a leptospirosis expert at the Animal Medical Center, told Good Housekeeping.

"The data that we have now suggests inner-city, urban dogs are just as likely to get leptospirosis as dogs in rural communities, and small dogs are just as likely to get it as large dogs,” Goldstein said.

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The bacteria can live in water for weeks and can be spread through contact with eyes, nose, mouth or an open cut, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dogs are commonly affected. Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, pain and increased thirst, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In urban areas, the disease can be spread through rat urine.

"We are unfortunately the rattiest city in the U.S. We were just given that title. So we have a very high population of rodents. We've had unseasonably warm and rainy weather," Dr. Natalie Marks, a Chicago veterinarian, told WFLD. "While we're all super excited about 70-degree weather, it is sort of the perfect storm for Leptospirosis exposure."

The disease can also be spread from animals to people. In New York, three people were infected in February through rat urine and one person died from it, according to WNBC.

"You want your dog to be a dog; you want your dog to be able to have fun," Goldstein said. "It's not practical to say that dogs won't to be exposed to it. The better solution is vaccination."