A veterinarian says there is a direct link between the number of rats in Halifax and the increase in leptospirosis cases in Nova Scotia.

On CTV News at 6 Monday night, Dr. Jeff Goodall said dogs can get the disease by ingesting rodent-infested garbage, soil or urine.

“If you look on the maps, it is mostly on the peninsula of Halifax and Fairview/Spryfield area. Then as you start going out further, the case numbers drop dramatically,” Dr. Goodall said.

Leptospirosis is a relatively rare bacterial disease, but Nova Scotia has seen quite a number of cases in dogs lately. More than 80 per cent of the lab-confirmed cases in Canada last year were in Nova Scotia, and the symptoms can sometimes be difficult to spot.

Dr. Goodall says the disease is fatal in five to 10 per cent of cases. The highly contagious infection can also be passed on to humans.

Dr. Goodall says the increase in construction projects in Halifax is resulting in an increase in the rat population. And, in turn, an increase in leptospirosis cases.

“(Vets) are more worried about the rodent strain of leptospirosis than they are the canine-strain," Dr. Goodall says.

There is no shortage of rats in Halifax. An annual report from a leading pest-control company says the city is number two in the region for the most rats, behind only St. John's.

Halifax Regional Municipality spokesperson Nick Ritcey acknowledges that the number of rat sightings is up this year.

“Not necessarily an increase in rats, but maybe an increase in the displacement of rats," Ritcey says.    

Despite that, many dog owners in Halifax say they’re keeping their pets on a tighter leash these days.  

“Absolutely. Especially because they're always drinking out of puddles and that sort of stuff,” says dog owner Jenna Sterling.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Bruce Frisko.