New York City is investigating a number of dog deaths that occurred after the animals reportedly visited a popular dog run at McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The animals had shown symptoms of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread by rats. In a statement, the city's Health Department said it has not yet confirmed cases of the disease related to McCarren Park, but it’s working with the Parks Department to inspect the area for rat activity. According to the Daily News, at least four dogs have died in recent weeks.
Councilmember Lincoln Restler said the dog run will close on Monday (for up to one week) while the Parks Department makes emergency repairs to address the infestation. He noted those solutions include: "Improving dog run drainage, installing rodent resistant garbage cans, bringing in new mulch/top soil."
Veterinarian Wendy McCulloch told WNYC/Gothamist that pet owners can take steps to protect their dogs, including vaccinating them against leptospirosis and keeping them away from puddles.
“The first vaccine is boosted in two weeks, and then it’s every year after that,” McCulloch said. “And the vaccines that are out, protect against four of what’s called the serovars, or types of Lepto pathogens.”
She said any dog that spends time outdoors in New York City should be vaccinated. Dog owners should also keep their dogs away from rodents and water puddles outdoors, she advised.
“New York City dogs are at high risk because of the rat population,” she said. “Anywhere there’s runoff, you’re at risk.”
The most common signs of leptospirosis in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, weakness, depression, stiffness, and muscle pain. The American Medical Veterinary Association says the disease can cause kidney failure, lung disease, bleeding disorders, and death in dogs.
Leptospirosis is spread through bacteria found in the urine of infected animals, which can survive in soil and water for weeks, according to the CDC. Humans and animals can contract the disease through contact with contaminated urine, water, or soil.
Since 2010 (and through October 2021) there have been 234 reported cases of the disease in dogs throughout the five boroughs, per the Health Department. While New York City has reported outbreaks of leptospirosis in the past, it reported 15 cases in humans in 2021 – the highest number it’s seen in a single year. Upon laboratory diagnosis, cases should be reported to the Health Department.
Dr. Laura Ward at the Heart of Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital, told WNYC/Gothamist, "If a pet owner is concerned that their pet could have Leptospirosis, it's really important not to come into contact with the urine, making sure to use gloves and just washing your hands really frequently." Ward added that they've recently "had quite a few calls about it... I think we are going to discuss whether it should be included in our core vaccine series."
Reports to 311 about rat sightings in New York City have also soared during the pandemic.