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The Mysterious Dog Disease: Key Facts

January 1, 2024

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you may have seen stories and reports about a mysterious illness that is affecting our canine companions. This is definitely something for pet owners to be aware of. Cases have been reported in at least 14 states, with several more suspected cases in other areas. Unfortunately, several dogs have succumbed to the disease. Official warnings have been issued by several groups, including both Colorado and Oregon’s departments of agriculture and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). A local Roanoke, VA vet offers some information on this issue in this article.

Where Are The Mysterious Dog Illness Outbreaks?

Several states have reported outbreaks—or suspected outbreaks—of the unknown disease. The official list includes California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Oregon alone has had over 200 cases, going back to the beginning of August.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that these numbers may not be precise. Most states are not officially tracking the outbreak. Additionally, because there is no official test, many of the cases have been reported based on symptoms. That can be tricky, because several other respiratory issues, such as Bordetella and canine parainfluenza may have similar ones. In fact, canine respiratory issues are sometimes grouped under the umbrella term ‘kennel cough’.

Can Humans Catch The Mysterious Dog Disease?

Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations has found that the risk of human contagion seems very low. We’re also happy to report that the illness does not appear to be sickening other pets. That said, we would still recommend washing your hands thoroughly after petting or handling Fido. This can also help reduce the spread of associated germs.

How Do I Protect My Dog From Mystery Illness?

Until the culprit has been officially identified and a vaccine developed, there is no foolproof way to ensure that your canine companion won’t come down with the respiratory illness. However, there are things you can do to lower Fido’s risk of contagion.

First and foremost, make sure that your furry best buddy is fully up to date on key vaccines. While the Bordetella vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, it’s recommended for pups that are going to be in contact with other dogs, whether at daycare, boarding facilities, parks, or even playdates. For the latest health safety guidelines including updates related to COVID-19, see our article “Important COVID-19 Update and Harris Animal Hospital“. Ask your Roanoke, VA vet for more information.

Keep in mind that some pups are more at risk than others. Pups with compromised immune systems and/or known respiratory issues are most at risk. Puppies that haven’t yet gotten all of their vaccines may also be in danger, as are brachys, such as pugs and bulldogs. 

Keep an eye out for symptoms. If you notice anything wrong, contact your veterinarian right away. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better!

How Widespread Is The Mystery Respiratory Illness?

Another issue that is muddling the numbers a bit is the fact that there may be some false negatives in testing for specific pathogens. This is because of the window of time between the time when a dog is actively ‘shedding’ virus, and the time that pet becomes sick enough to require veterinary care.

What Is The Mystery Dog Illness?

That’s the big question: the illness hasn’t been positively identified. There are a lot of possibilities here. For instance, it’s not sure if this is a new disease, or a new strain of something familiar.

It’s also possible, though unlikely, that the outbreaks are not all being caused by the same thing.

That said, here is what we do know: the illness is quite similar to kennel cough. Kennel cough isn’t in itself a single disease: the term is often used as an umbrella term to describe several respiratory illnesses in dogs. Kennel cough can be caused by viruses or bacteria. As the name suggests, it usually leads to a severe cough.

The biggest distinction between kennel cough and the mystery illness isn’t good. Kennel cough usually clears up with proper treatment. However, the new illness doesn’t respond to the treatments usually used for kennel cough.

The severity of the illness is another thing that makes it concerning. The afflicted pups also often get very, very sick very, very fast. Although many pooches recover with proper treatment, others have deteriorated. Fido may develop a long-term case or a secondary infection. Some pups required surgical removal of infected tissue, while others were put on ventilators. This is uncommon, especially considering that some of the pups were young and healthy. Several dogs have died, with some succumbing at an alarmingly fast rate. For information on our emergency and critical care services, visit “Veterinary Critical Care“.

What Causes The Mystery Illness?

While there is still a lot of information needed, research is closing in on a potential culprit. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnosis Laboratory and the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies claim to have identified a pathogen. They announced this after processing the results of genetic samplings of 70 dogs. About 30 of the pups were New Hampshire pooches that were infected last year. The rest were Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and got sick this year.

The pathogen in question has been referred to as a “funky bacterium” and seems to be adept at avoiding and defeating Fido’s natural immune system. The bacterium is also reported to be “rich” in adenine and thymine, while lacking cytosine and guanine. It does not appear to be able to survive outside a host, though, again, more research is needed.

How Is Mystery Illness Diagnosed?

Things get a bit tricky here, as there isn’t yet a definitive test. However, the pups that have been diagnosed with the mystery illness test negative for more common forms or canine respiratory illness. They also struggle to get over the infection. Usually, dogs with respiratory illnesses will have a cough that lasts about a week or so. With this illness, that cough persists longer than that.

What Are The Signs Of The Mysterious Dog Illness?

The warning signs in this case are quite similar to those of typical respiratory issues. Coughing is likely the most common sign. That cough may start mildly, and then accelerate. It also may linger for weeks and, in many cases, has worsened into pneumonia.

Rapid, labored breathing is another red flag. Lethargy is also a red flag. Fido may seem extremely tired, and may spend his time snoozing in his doggy bed, rather than wanting to play or cuddle. Other warning signs include discharge from the eyes or nose; fever; wheezing; loss of appetite; weight loss; and dehydration.

Because of the possibility of contagion, before bringing Fido into the clinic, contact your Roanoke, VA vet or emergency clinic and let them know your pooch is showing symptoms.

How Is The Mystery Illness Spread?

The culprit here seems to be close contact. It seems to be airborne, with pups getting sick after breathing the same air as infected pooches. It could possibly also be spread through direct contact, and/or sharing bowls, toys, and dishes.  As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to consider any gathering of doggos a potential hotspot for infection. Places such as dog groomers’ salons, kennels, dog parks, and doggy daycares are likely the most dangerous areas.

It’s important to know the signs of the mystery illness. These include coughing, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, and nasal discharge. Contact your vet right away for more information. 

Do you have questions about your dog’s health or care? Contact us, your local Roanoke, VA pet hospital, anytime!

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