PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Health officials in New Jersey are warning pet owners about a deadly disease that is passed through rats.

Veterinarians in the state say they have seen a rise in the number of dogs who have contracted leptospirosis this year. The disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through rat urine. Health officials say dogs may be exposed to the infection after lapping up puddle water.

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Symptoms in dogs are marked by fever, loss of appetite and urination problems.

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Officials say they believe more dogs have contracted the disease because owners have spent more time outside with their pets due to mild temperatures this winter season. Authorities say to be mindful at dog parks.

A Bronx man died from leptospirosis in February and two others became ill.

The bacteria enters the body through open wounds and cuts in the skin, or through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Some people who are infected may not develop symptoms, while others may have a mild illness with fever, headache chills, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhea. In some cases patients may develop a life-threatening illness that affects their kidneys and liver.

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(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)