Have you sighted rats in your yard lately? Although you may breathe a sigh of relief that you've had none in your house (yet), that relief may be premature. As city rat control measures increase around the country, more rats may be scrambling closer to residential areas.
Rats can bring a dangerous disease called leptospirosis into your yard, and your pets can pick it up without ever having physical contact with the rodents. Here's what you need to know as summer rodent season looms.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can infect both humans and animals. In humans, it causes symptoms that, initially, are often written off as the flu; however, without treatment it can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, respiratory problems, and even death. In pets, symptoms develop 4-12 days after infection and include
- abdominal pain
- refusal to eat
- severe muscle pain
- blood in urine
Some animals infected with leptospirosis do not show signs of the disease; however, they can become carriers. In fact, animals who have not received treatment for this disease can transmit it themselves for up to a year. It can be passed not only from animal to animal but to humans as well. Pet owners who have come into contact with their animals' bodily wastes while caring for them may become ill as well.
Your animal can become infected with leptospirosis without ever coming into direct contact with a rat. The primary mode of transmission to animals is through the urine of infected animals. When rats urinate on your lawn, the bacteria seep into the soil. A cut or break in your animal's skin, if it makes contact with infected soil, is enough to provide entry for the bacteria. If rodents urinate into standing water such as a swimming pool or garden planters, animals can ingest it through swimming in or drinking the water.
As leptospirosis progresses from its early symptoms, it targets pets' kidneys and livers, causing jaundice and hepatitis. Blood clotting can become problematic, with blood appearing in pets' mouths and stool. Respiratory distress and pulmonary hemorrhage are also potential complications. Antibiotic treatment is critical, and hospitalization may be necessary, especially if the animal is dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea.
Why is leptospirosis a particular concern right now?
It's more common than people think. Veterinarians think the disease is more prevalent than previously thought. Because some of the symptoms of leptospirosis are common to many illnesses, vets may simply treat with antibiotics and spare pet owners the costs associated with diagnostic testing.
Diagnosed cases are on the rise. The cases that are identified as leptospirosis are increasing. For instance, the number of dogs clinically diagnosed with leptospirosis has skyrocketed 600% in the past seven years.
Urban cases are more likely than wilderness transmissions. While one might think leptospirosis would be more common in the wild, it actually occurs twice as often in urban settings. Experts say 90% of city-dwelling rats carry the bacteria, putting animals at high risk of the disease.
As you can see, the fact that you don't have rats in your house does not mean that your pets are safe. If you have seen rats in your yard, or the signs they leave behind (such as the gnawed cord of your weed whacker), call a pest control company in your area. A technician will evaluate the problem, show you what measures you can take to keep rodents away, and devise just the right treatment strategy to eliminate the ones that are already bothering you. Guard your yard, and keep your pets safe from leptospirosis. If you want more information about pest control methods to keep rats out of your yard, you can click here to check it out.