Halifax woman warns of leptospirosis after her husky dies

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Halifax woman warns of leptospirosis after her husky dies

A Halifax woman whose trained therapy dog died this month after contracting leptospirosis is warning dog owners to be vigilant about the infectious disease that's on the rise in the municipality.

Two weeks ago, Brenda Potter noticed that Pippin, her 11-year-old Siberian husky, wasn't eating. She took him to the vet but it was already too late. Two days later, Pippin's kidneys started to fail and Potter said goodbye. 

Potter, who has been breeding Siberians since 1977, doesn't know how he came into contact with the infectious bacteria and that's what worries her the most. Pippin was a trained therapy dog that visited kids at the Ronald McDonald House every week. 

"Talk to anybody who knows the dog, there's just something special about him," Potter said. "I want Pippin's death to make a difference."

'Overrun' with cases 

Dogs can contract leptospirosis by drinking contaminated water or coming in contact with other infected dogs through their urine. 

Potter says the unusually warm weather and growing number of rats in her Fairview neighbourhood likely didn't help. She wants municipal council to do more to curb the rat population.

Tara Riddell, a veterinarian with the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic, told CBC News in August that the clinic used to encounter a handful of cases of leptospirosis a year. 

When CBC News called the emergency clinic Sunday, all of the veterinarians were busy and hospital manager Wade Smith said more staff were being brought in to help

Smith said the clinic was treating eight suspected cases of the disease. 

"We're overrun with it right now basically, like we couldn't be prepared to have this many suspect and positive cases," he said.

What to look for

Teresa Burns, who also lives in Halifax, is worried about her Bernese mountain dog, Gordie, who was taken to the emergency clinic Thursday.

Sunday afternoon, Burns said the vet was treating him for leptospirosis but his tests results had only improved slightly. 

The Burns family noticed something wasn't right when two-year-old Gordie lost his appetite and was lethargic. They live near Long Lake and visit Point Pleasant Park regularly. Burns is advising people to avoid those areas for now. 

She's worried about Gordie and said his prognosis is uncertain. 

"He hasn't started to get better yet. His kidneys are failing," she said. 

Families taking precautions

Jan Gentile-Nugent's dog Stanley also contracted the disease, but was able to get antibiotics early. Gentile-Nugent said earlier this month she noticed Stanley was excessively thirsty and was even drinking out of the toilet, which he doesn't typically do.

She knows her family is lucky but she's warning her dog-loving friends to go to the vet if they notice anything odd in their pets' behaviour.

The family is also taking precautions so they don't contract the disease. 

"We've just been very careful to wash our hands and just keep our distance from him a bit this week," she said. 

Vaccine available

Potter has five other dogs, and gave them all antibiotics the night Pippin died. She said she's since completely disinfected her home and backyard and is planning to have the dogs vaccinated, too. 

There's a vaccine available, but it only protects against four types of leptospirosis. Since there are many more varieties of the bacteria, vaccinated dogs can still be infected.

Even with these extra precautions, Potter worries every time her dogs go outside. 

"I don't know what else people can do," she said. "How can I keep my dogs safe? How can you stop the dog from sniffing the ground? Really?"