MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Cities across the U.S. are reporting a rise in cases of Leptospirosis in dogs.
Leptospirosis a bacterial infection spread from rat urine that thrives in hot, humid climates.
As cities experiencing a warmer winter see a rise in cases, veterinarian Ian Kupkee from Sabal Chase Animal Clinic in Kendall says it's a problem in South Florida year round.
Not only does South Florida provide the perfect climate, the most recent US Census American Housing Survey ranked Miami in the top 25 rat-infested cities.
Though preventable through vaccination, Kupkee explains many dog owners, like parents of children, are opting against vaccines.
"You see under vaccination in societies that are highly developed - shall we say comfortable? And a lot of us are under the illusion that diseases have been vanquished and they're gone and we've solved it and we can move on to a brave new world, but the diseases are very real," explained Dr. Kupkee.
Even in a rodent-free home, unvaccinated dogs can contract the disease in bodies of water like man-made community lakes, playing in the soil, and drinking from communal water fountains like those found in dog parks says Dr. Kupkee.
"That's a scary thought," said dog trainer Ivelis Perez who admits she's never heard of Leptospirosis.
Dr. Kupkee explains excessive thirst, loss of appetite, and a rise in body temperature are signs that something isn't right, but doesn't necessarily mean it's Leptospirosis.
Left untreated, the disease attacks the kidneys and lungs and often results in death.
"It's dreadful. When you see Leptospirosis in a dog, it's unforgettable. It's the most disturbingly sad thing," said Kupkee.
It can be contracted by humans, too.
Earlier this month, a New York man reportedly died of Leptospirosis.
Florida Department of Health records show there were four human cases reported in 2015; one of those was in Miami-Dade County.
Dr. Kupkee believes prevention in pets is the first line of defense.
"The disease is almost always fatal. The vaccine, worst case scenario, a little bit of fever for a day? I would pick the fever over the disease," said Dr. Kupkee.
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