National | Cyclone Gabrielle

Pet owners urged to keep an eye on their pet's health following floods

Evacuations in Napier, Hawke's Bay.  Photo: Paul Taylor / NZ Herald

Pet owners in the country’s flood-affected areas are being encouraged to keep an eye on their pet's health following the cyclone and rain events.

Cats and dogs are at higher risk of certain diseases, conditions and parasites after floods, says the New Zealand Veterinary Association's Sally Cory, with contaminated water, silt and food common sources of harmful bacteria.

Some diseases can also infect people.

"The main concern is leptospirosis, which is a disease that can spread between animals and humans. It is commonly transmitted in the urine of infected farm animals and rodents that can be spread into the environment via floodwater, so dogs that come into contact with floodwater are at risk."

Cory encourages owners to talk to their vet about whether their pet or working dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis, or if they need a booster. "If your pet or farm dog seems unwell at all, please contact your vet."

Symptoms of leptospirosis include vomiting or diarrhoea; walking stiffly or being reluctant to move; refusing to eat; having a fever; and drinking and/or urinating more often, but symptoms can be mild, and a pet may just seem unwell.

"Because humans can contract leptospirosis as well, it’s important that owners practise good hygiene, wash their hands, and clean their pet and any items that have come into contact with floodwater."

Other conditions pets are at risk of after floods are gastroenteritis (including salmonella and giardia), stress-induced cystitis in cats, toxicity from contaminated or mouldy food, respiratory diseases, and worms or flea infestations.

"Changes to routine and environment following major events can cause cats to develop stress-related cystitis where they urinate or attempt to urinate more frequently than normal," says Cory.

"Often these symptoms can be mistaken for constipation. If your cat starts showing problems, contact your vet immediately, as cystitis can have serious complications."

To protect their animals, the New Zealand Veterinary Association says owners should keep their pets’ parasite treatments up-to-date, dispose of contaminated or mouldy pet food, clean their pet’s feet with a mild soap or detergent if they have walked through flood-contaminated areas, and keep the hair on pet feet trimmed.

Exercising dogs on a leash to avoid coming into contact with floodwater or silt, is also recommended.