Rat population on rise and closer to humans than ever

Roger Salmon.
Roger Salmon.

Did you know that estimates of the rat population in Britain range from anything between 10 to 80 m?

Experts appear united on one thing: our changing climate will be good news for rats, bringing them closer to humans and in larger numbers than ever before.

Rat activity in towns and cities usually peaks in the winter months because during spring and summer there is a lot of food for them out in the fields.

However poor crop production, increased poultry ownership, feeding of wild birds, excess food waste in streets and around our homes means we now see thriving urban rats the whole year round.

The rat is the main carrier of Leptospirosis which can be transmitted to dogs either directly via contact with infected urine or indirectly via contact with contaminated water, for example drinking or swimming in canals or rivers inhabited by infected rats. Dogs that have been infected may go on to become carriers and shed the bacteria in their urine.

Leptospirosis is a serious zoonotic disease which means it can be spread to humans by contact with infected urine.

There are two main forms of the disease that are commonly seen: Leptospira canicola – the dog is the main carrier of this disease which primarily affects the kidneys and can be fatal, and Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae – the rat is the main carrier of the disease that can cause severe signs in the dog such as abdominal pain, jaundice, liver damage and even death.

All dogs that are exercised out of doors or have access to rodents or where they have urinated are at risk.

You can protect dogs from these diseases by annual vaccination, which not only provides protection for your own dog but can also reduce the chance of spread to other animals and humans alike.

It is important to re-vaccinate your dog on a yearly basis against Leptospirosis to continue the optimum level of protection – studies have shown that protection starts to wane after 12 months.