Disease & Injury
Rats can transmit at least 35 diseases to humans, including leptospirosis (very, very common) and the plague (very rare). Other diseases transmittable by rats include: typhus, rabies, tularemia, trichinosis, leishmaniasis, spirilary rat bite fever, and spirochetal jaundice.
In practice, keeping yourself and your dog disease-free is relatively easy, provided you use common sense:
Inoculate your dog. Nothing is more important than a full inoculation. This should inlcude an innouculation for leptospirosis. Some dogs have an adverse reaction to this shot and some areas have a form of lepto that the vaccine does not work to prevent, but any dog that is ratting should have a lepto shot. Period.
Try to reduce your physical contact with the rats. Wear gloves. Put rubber bands around your pants legs in areas where rats are really swarming, and handle rats only by grabbing their tails. Some folks use salad tongs as "rat tongs".
Stay out of puddles and all other water where rats may have urinated. You and your dog can catch leptospirosis by coming into contact with puddles and other water into which a rat may have urinated. Have a ready supply of clean water your dog can drink from so it is less likely to drink from a puddle into which a rat has urinated.
Do not let your dog chew on a rat. Most dogs will bite, shake, snap, and drop a rat in the speed it takes to read this sentence. If your dog attempts to carry or chew on the rat, discourage this by yelling at it, bribing it, or even smacking it (gently) in the muzzle with a leash. In fact, some dogs are simply "mashers" and "crunchers" and there is nothing to be done about it.
After ratting use bleach. Wash you clothes with an extra shot of bleach, take a hot shower, and use bleach on your hands with special attention around the fingernails.
If you get sick, go to a doctor FAST. Most diseases are treatable, but getting to a doctor early is important in every single case. If you cannot afford to go to a doctor, do not go ratting.
Leptospirosis or Weil's Disease
An astonishing 55 percent of all rats are reputed to carry leptospirosis, with over 66 percent of all city rats reportedly infected. Nearly every animal can catch leptospirosis -- horses, pigs, cats, dogs, human -- but the rat, ironically, is immune, and lepto is actually quite uncommon in dogs and generally impacts dogs younger than 6 months.
- Assume all rats have letospirosis.
- You do not need to be bitten by a rat to catch the disease. Leptospirosis can be transmitted through contact with water into which a dog or rat has urinated. If you see a puddle of water near where you see rats, assume it is highly contaminated.
- Leptospirosis attacks the liver in both humans and dogs, and causes a kind of jaundice. Dogs (and humans too, presumably) with leptospirosis have feces that are putty-colored since they are devoid of the pigment produced by bile which has been diverted to the skin (causing a yellowing of the eyes and skin in humans).
- Dogs with leptospirosis are listless, off-color, and will generally refuse to go on walks. Though they will be off their food, they will be very thirsty and drink a great deal of water. At the same time they are consuming vast quantities of water, a dog will become dehydrated as it tries to flush its body of the disease.
- Treatment is fairly expensive and takes time as it relies an massive amounts of antibiotics. Animals can die even with antibiotic treatment.
- Prevention through inoculation may be possible. The good news is that an annual inoculation against leptospiral jaundice is often effective, but some dogs have adverse reactions to lepto vaccine, and some areas have forms of lepto for which no vaccine has yet been developed. In addition a lepto vaccine will only last a year. Is a lepto vaccine worth it for most dogs? No, not generally. If your dog is a dedicated ratter (more than three or four times a year), this may be a vaccine worth getting, but my own dogs do without, and I have never had a problem
Sepsis of wounds
Most rat-inflicted wounds are minor and can be treated by flushing them well with water and treating with prov-iodine or an anti-bacterial ointment. Check over your dog thoroughly right after you have been ratting, and then again the next day and the next looking for abscesses or infections.