University of Sydney experts are warning all dog owners in the inner city andthe inner west to have their dog vaccinated against leptospirosis and to stayaway from rat baits.

1. Get your dog vaccinated

The current recommendation is for all dog owners in inner Sydney and the innerwest to have their dog vaccinated at their local vet. The specific suburbswhere leptospirosis has been reported are Surry Hills, Glebe and Darlinghurst.Call your vet for advice as some dogs should not be vaccinated.

2. Keep your dog on a lead

“We are advising dog owners to walk their dog on a lead in the affectedareas,” said Dr Anne Fawcett, from the School of Veterinary Science. “Thefatal bacterial infection is spread by rats and other rodents. Dogs can becomeinfected by direct contact (from a rat bite or from eating a rat) and indirectcontact (drinking urine-contaminated water or licking contaminated soil).”

3. Know the early signs of illness

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause acute kidney failure andliver disease in dogs. The early signs can be vague – look for fever,lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or a soft cough. If you areworried, go to the vet early.

4. Keep your dog away from rat baits

The City of Sydney plans to double the number of rat baits in the inner cityand inner west. Rat baits are toxic to dogs. “Thousands of dogs in NSW areaffected by rat bait ingestion every year and this can be fatal,” said Dr AnneFawcett, in the School of Veterinary Science. “If you see your dog eat ratbait seek veterinary attention immediately, as your vet may be able to inducevomiting. Keep your dog on a lead in the vicinity of rat baits. Some dogs areincredibly persistent with chewing and getting things out of containers. It isvery important to exercise caution. Do not walk a dog off-leash in affectedareas or in the vicinity of rat baits.”

5. Avoid rat baits in your home

Avoid putting rat baits in the home or backyard without veterinary advice. Thelast thing you want is your dog coming across a bait and mistaking it for atreat or toy.

6. Know the early signs of rat bait poisoning

“If you see your dog eat rat bait seek veterinary attention immediately, asyour vet may be able to induce vomiting,” says Dr Fawcett. “Signs of rat baittoxicity include weakness, fatigue, pale gums, bruising and coughing. There isan antidote which is most effective if given early.”

7. Aim to reduce rats around the home and garden

Make sure you don’t leave food outside, including pet food. Remember that ratscan chew and eat anything. Secure all rubbish in bins with a tightly-fittedlid and restrict access to compost. “Pest control works best when neighboursjoin in to control over a big area,” says conservation biologist ProfessorPeter Banks, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. “The otherissue is BBQs. Rats can get in and access the fat trays. Keeping your outdoorBBQ clean is a good idea. Having pets makes no difference. Rats are notdeterred by cats or dogs.”

Rats in the garden

Brown rats in inner city Sydney. Residents can make their yard less attractiveto rats by securing all rubbish in closed bins, keeping a lid on compost andavoid leaving pet food out at night.

Rat problem in Sydney

Six confirmed cases of leptospirosis in the inner west have been reported. Allthe dogs died or were euthanased. While it is thought that the recent outbreakcould be due to major construction occurring in Sydney and therefore increasedexposure to rats and contamination of subterranean water, the current sourceof infection and the strain of bacteria involved is unknown.

The City of Sydney has confirmed it will double the number of rat baitstations in public areas and increase rat monitoring after the outbreak ofleptospirosis, which can be fatal for dogs. However, University of Sydneyexperts are warning rat baits can also be toxic to dogs.

What rat is that?

Conservation biologist Professor Peter Banks, from the School of Life andEnvironmental Sciences, said there are two main species of rat in Sydney: thebrown rat, Rattus norvegicus , also known as the Norway rat and the blackrat Rattus rattus , also known as the ship rat or roof rat.

“Both have global distributions, spread by European explorers on ships. Blackrats are by far the most common in Sydney as a whole, including in bushlandareas as well as urban, while the brown rats more common in the inner city.”

Professor Banks is concerned that rat baits also kill our native Australianrats. “We have more than 60 species of native rat in Australia,” ProfessorBanks said.

“This includes the water rat or Rakali (indigenous name) Hydromyschrysogaster which can be up to one kilogram and is in Sydney harbour andforeshore areas. Unfortunately, they can also be killed by baiting campaigns –so care should be taken when considering pest rat control near to waterways toprotect this species.”

Studying outbreaks

Dr Christine Griebsch, Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Medicine, from theSchool of Veterinary Science, has issued an alert to all vets to contact theirclients in the area to encourage them to bring their dogs in for leptospirosisvaccination. If you are concerned contact your local vet.

Subject to ethics approval, the University of Sydney plans to undertake astudy to determine which strains of bacteria are involved and if there is anyspecific source of infection which can be identified.

“The recent outbreak of leptospirosis poses not only a risk to unvaccinateddogs but also to their owners,” Dr Griebsch said. “This research project willenable us to identify the causative bacterial strain and begin to investigatethe epidemiology of this outbreak which is essential for an effectivepreventative plan.”

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