Be aware of pet illnesses and diseases following floods

Published on 3 March 2023.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is encouraging pet owners in the country’s flood affected areas to keep an eye on their pets’ health following the cyclone and rain events, and to contact their vet if they have concerns.

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services – Companion Animal Sally Cory says cats and dogs are at higher risk of certain diseases, conditions and parasites after floods, 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.”

Sally 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,” Sally says.

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,” Sally says. “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, owners should keep their pets’ routine parasite treatments up-to-date, dispose of any 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.

Flood resources and advice for pet owners, including symptoms to watch out for, are available on the NZVA website