Local veterinarian warns against deadly bacteria found in Virginia river

Certain dogs more at risk

By Lindsey Kennett - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - A veterinarian is warning pet parents in Southwest Virginia about a dangerous bacteria that could be found in local rivers, streams or lakes that can be deadly to dogs.

A German Shephard in Albemarle County died from a bacterial disease he contracted drinking from the Rivanna River. 

The bacteria, Leptospirosis, is different than the toxic blue-green algae, which has shut down lakes and killed at least four dogs across the country.

Though, it's just as dangerous, according to Roanoke Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Mark Finkler.

It's transmitted through urine, typically from wild animals. Dogs can get infected if they drink contaminated water or lick their fur after a swim.

"That bacteria then gets in the dog's kidneys and the liver and can cause serious harm and sometimes even lead to fatalities," said Finkler.

Two-year-old Labrador Daisy loves the water, but her dad, Roanoke resident Scott Michie might be keeping her on a shorter leash.

"This is definitely something to be concerned about," Michie said.

It's not just standing water that this dangerous bacteria and algae could be lurking in. It could live in rivers, streams or lakes and depending on where you live, your dog could be more at risk.

"More rural environment dogs are out in the fields, they're drinking out of ponds, they're drinking in streams that are contaminated by wild animals," said Dr. Finkler.

There is hope if your dog's been exposed to Leptospirosis. There's a vaccine and it can be treated with antibiotics.

Dog mom Brianna Yeager only lets 5-year-old Maddie stick her paws in the river behind her apartment.

"I've been hesitant to take her there just because in the past she'll drink from it, so it's been making me just a little weary."

Michie always keeps a bottle of clean water handy for Daisy and said he'll take more precautions to protect the brown-haired, brown-eyed, four-legged member of the family.

"She's as important to me as my kids are probably," Michie said jokingly. "She's really just a great addition to our family and we just love her to death. And that's the main thing: We always make sure she's healthy and well-taken care of."

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