The streets of NYC are getting ruff — and killing local pooches.
When Roxanna Zafar’s puppy was laying feebly in a hospital bed last month gasping his last breaths and suffering acute kidney failure, she hadn’t heard of the disease that would take his life within days.
“I never even heard the word ‘leptospirosis’ until he was sick in the hospital,” said Zafar, who lost 12-week-old Disco to the bacterial disease that affects humans and animals.
Once considered a rare disease among humans, an outbreak has ravaged NYC this year, with more leptospirosis cases in 2021 than any other year. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a statement in September noting the record number of cases in the city, with 14 humans infected so far this year, 13 of which led to hospitalization. One person died from the infection. In 2017, leptospirosis claimed one life and sickened two others in The Bronx.
The rat population, which excretes the bacteria into the environment, is squarely to blame for most human cases. Contact with water, soil or contaminated food with an infected animal’s urine are major sources of transmission.
For Fidos who mingle in puddles or any pool of water or soil, the bacteria, which can survive for months, enters the mucus membranes.
Dr. Jennifer Jablow, an owner of two rescues, warned, “The amount of garbage piling up in NYC and limited sanitation is causing an upsurge in rat sightings. Dogs are more at risk for leptospirosis, which can be deadly. It’s sad what NYC has become.”
While Zafar doesn’t know where her cuddly 10-pound Australian cattle dog picked it up, the aggressive disease wore down the once-active puppy, who developed lethargy and started vomiting violently one night. “It was all downhill from there,” said Zafar, who rushed him to an animal hospital.
Watching her new puppy deteriorate was as crushing as it was bewildering. “We got to say our goodbyes — taking off his cone, and spending time in our car. He was jaundiced, trembling, with back legs curling in,” she said.
Zafar, a 34-year-old from the Upper West Side, shelled out $10,000 on medical expenses for Disco, but declined a $30,000 dialysis treatment that she was told was risky.
“The cost was beyond our means, prognosis was very poor and ultimately we did not want to be selfish and put him through any more suffering,” she said, adding that a vet told her another animal hospital was likely short on beds as multiple dogs were being treated for leptospirosis at once.
Disco’s leptospirosis test came back positive after he died.
“Treatment for hospitalized cases can be a thousand to several thousand [dollars] if the pet has to stay at the hospital for several days due to liver or kidney failure,” Dr. Sarah Wooten, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, told The Post. “It is expensive because the pets have to be treated as contagious and urine from infected animals has to be handled very carefully to prevent infection of hospital staff or other animals in the hospital.”
A heartsick Zafar posted a warning on a local Facebook group: “Dog owners: Please be aware of Leptospirosis and prevent your dogs from coming in contact with stagnant water/puddles. This disease was unbeknownst to us and ultimately killed our puppy.”
Dozens of responses poured in, some from owners who lost their own dog to the disease. “I lost my 5 1/2 year old to lepto. Heartbreaking. Early symptoms are mild & non-specific. Never second guess going to vet. Be overly cautious,” said one commenter, whose vaccinated dog still caught a deadly strain.
Because Disco was only a puppy, Zafar didn’t know that a vaccine was available. “I read that experts do not recommend the lepto [vaccine] for puppies under 12 weeks. It is a two-series vaccine, only protects against four strains of lepto and is not part of the core vaccines,” she said.
“He was such a light in our lives,” she added. “It was amazing how quickly he declined. It was crazy — three days of being sick.”
“I wish I knew what I know now,” Zafar continued. “The whole experience has been devastating and my only wish is to prevent this from happening to another dog.”