Creature Feature: Of rats & dogs

13 Apr

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1E, April 13, 2011

RHONDA OWEN, Special to the Democrat-Gazette

My Pomeranian loves squeaky toys. Her favorite is a floppy stuffed weasel-like toy that has squeakers at both ends. She grips it in her tiny jaws of death and shakes it savagely. Faster, floppy toy. Kill. Kill.

Because Simone is a harmless-looking fluffball of a dog, her play appears disconcertingly predatory. But it’s normal, what dog behaviorists call “prey play.”

Prey play is what you see when dogs run after balls or shake their toys violently. Basically, they’re practicing for the real deal with a live animal, although you hope that never happens.
Sometimes it does.

Several weeks ago, Simone caught and shook a rat to death in my backyard. I didn’t see the actual shaking, but caught her minutes later mouthing the rat like a squeaky toy — only the rat wasn’t squeaking. Its neck and tail were broken.

Squeaky toys are cute; dead rats aren’t.

After I got over the shock of seeing my dog act like a dog, I disposed of the rat, brushed Simone’s teeth and gave her the longest bath of her life. Take that, rat germs. Kill. Kill.

Rat germs? That’s when I started worrying about what diseases Simone might have gotten from the rat. Leptospirosis (lepto) immediately came to mind because I had talked to my veterinarian about it when Simone had her annual vaccinations.

I had questioned the vet about the necessity of the leptospirosis vaccine, saying I didn’t think Simone would ever come in contact with rats or other carriers of the disease. My vet gave me a stern overthe-eyeglasses look and said, “Oh, yes, she will.”

Simone got the vaccine. Good thing. But not because she caught a rat and had it in her mouth.

Biting or being bitten by a rat isn’t the most common way to pick up the lepto virus, says veterinarian Louise Murray, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Bergh Animal Hospital in New York.

“The way that dogs usually get leptospirosis is from the urine of wild animals,” Murray says. “It doesn’t have to be a rat.” Among other animals that could carry one of the several strains of leptospirosis are mice, raccoons and opossums.

For example, she says, a dog might walk through a puddle of water or on grass where an infected animal has urinated, then contract the virus by licking its feet.

Dogs can pass the lepto virus to humans and humans can pass it back to dogs. A dog may even pass it along to other animals that come in contact with its urine. Cat owners needn’t worry, however. Murray says scientists have found no evidence that the virus affects cats.

If a dog is infected with lepto, symptoms appear soon afterward.

“Most will get really, really sick very quickly — like within several days,” Murray says. Soon after infection, a dog may be more thirsty than usual. Then the dog will stop drinking and eating, and may start throwing up.

Leptospirosis, which can be fatal, damages the liver and kidneys. Treatment includes antibiotics, fluids, and drugs to control problems that go along with liver and kidney infections.

Murray says all dogs — except those that never come into contact with another animal — need to receive the lepto vaccine annually. A commonly held misconception about the lepto vaccine is that dogs react negatively to it, but she says that primarily happens when the lepto shot is given along with several other vaccinations.

To prevent a reaction to the vaccine, Murray suggests dog owners ask their vets to spread out the shots over two office visits. “That’s more inconvenient for the owner but better for the dog.”

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2 Responses to “Creature Feature: Of rats & dogs”

  1. Arkie Mama April 13, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    “Jaws of death.” I love it!!

  2. Sherri April 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Adorable drawing, but they don’t hold a candle to the real Simone.

    Hard to believe that a pomerian could have the “jaws of death.”

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