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What Bellevue, WA Dog Owners Need To Know About The Mystery Canine Respiratory Disease
December 15, 2023

As you may have noticed, recent news coverage has highlighted a puzzling sickness that is impacting our canine companions across the country. The illness has been documented in over 16 states, with additional unconfirmed cases in other regions. Various organizations, such as the departments of agriculture in Colorado and Oregon and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), have released official alerts. A Bellevue, WA veterinarian shares details about the new respiratory disease outbreak in this piece.

Mysterious Dog Illness Outbreaks: Where Are They Happening?

The unknown disease has spread to several states. The official list includes California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. There have been over 200 reported cases in Oregon alone, since the beginning of August.

The fact that some tests for specific pathogens may result in false negatives is another issue that muddles the numbers. This is because there is a window of time between when a dog is actively shedding the  virus and the moment he becomes symptomatic.

In addition, because there is no official test for the outbreak, many of the cases have been reported based on symptoms. That means these numbers may not be exact, especially considering that most states are not officially tracking the outbreak. Confirming cases can also be tricky because several other respiratory problems, such as canine parainfluenza and Bordetella, share similar symptoms. 

Is It Possible For Humans To Catch The Mysterious Dog Disease?

According to research conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations, human infections are very unlikely. Additionally, we’re happy to report that the illness does not appear to be affecting other pets. Nevertheless, we still recommend washing your hands thoroughly after petting or handling Fido, to help prevent the spread of germs.

What Can I Do To Protect My Dog From Mystery Illnesses?

While there is no foolproof way to prevent Fido from contracting the respiratory illness, there are ways to reduce your pet’s risk of contracting it.

Make sure your furry friend is fully vaccinated. In addition to the core vaccines, we would also recommend making sure that Fido is vaccinated for Bordetella. Though considered non core, Bordetella vaccinations are recommended for pups who will be in contact with other dogs. It’s often required at places like doggy daycare and boarding facilities. Ask your veterinarian for more details.

It’s also worth noting that more research is needed to determine how long it can survive outside of a host.

The Mystery Dog Illness: What Is It?

There are still many unknowns here, which of course explains why the illness is being referred to as a mystery disease. For instance, it’s not clear whether this is a new disease, or a new strain of something familiar.

Here’s what we do know:

The illness is quite similar to kennel cough, which, as the name suggests, refers to a severe cough that can be caused by bacteria or viruses. The term kennel cough doesn’t refer to a single disease: it’s an umbrella term used to describe a number of respiratory illnesses in dogs.

The big difference between kennel cough and the mystery illness? Kennel cough usually clears up with proper treatment. The new illness does not respond to those treatments. This is one reason it’s so concerning.

How Dangerous is The Mystery Illness?

There is both good and bad news here. While healthy dogs often pull through with proper treatment, some pooches take a turn for the worse, and can rapidly become extremely ill. Some develop chronic cases or secondary infections. Several afflicted dogs have required surgical intervention and/or respiratory support.  Tragically, several dogs have succumbed to the disease. This is particularly alarming given that some of the affected pups were previously in good health.

What Causes The Canine Respiratory Illness?

Although more information is still needed, a pathogen has been identified by researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnosis Laboratory and the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies. Fido’s natural immune system seems to be unable to resist and defeat the pathogen in question. This information is based on research done on genetic samples taken from 70 dogs. About 30 of the dogs were infected last year in New Hampshire. The rest were Massachusetts and Rhode Island pooches that got sick this year.

As to the pathogen, it hasn’t yet earned an official name, though researchers have referred to it, rather cryptically, as a ‘funky bacterium.’ 

How Is The Mystery Canine Illness Diagnosed?

As of now, there is no definitive test for the mystery virus. However, the pups that have been diagnosed with the mystery illness tested negative for other forms of canine respiratory illness. Another indicator? Usually, dogs with respiratory illnesses have a cough that lasts for about a week or two. This illness persists longer than that.

Mysterious Dog Illness: Warning Signs

Coughing is probably the most commonly observed warning sign. It may start mildly, but then accelerate. In many cases, the cough lingers for weeks. In general, it just tends to stubbornly hang on. In many cases, it has worsened into pneumonia.

Coughing isn’t the only red flag to keep an eye out for, though. Lethargy and fatigue are also warning signs. Fido may seem extremely tired, and may spend his time snoozing in his doggy bed, rather than playing or cuddling. Rapid, labored breathing is another thing to watch for. Additional symptoms include discharge from the eyes and nose, other warning signs include fever, wheezing, weight loss, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Contact your Bellevue, WA veterinarian right away if you notice any of these things. 

Fido may be contagious, so be sure to tell your vet or emergency clinic that he is symptomatic before bringing him in.

How Do Dogs Get The Mystery Illness?

Though more information is needed, most of the afflicted pups seem to be getting sick from breathing the same air as infected pooches. The illness may also be spread by sharing bowls, toys, and dishes, as well as by direct contact, such as playing, snuggling, or even sniffing noses. As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to consider any gathering of doggos as a potential hotspot for infection. Groomers’ salons, kennels, dog parks, and doggy daycares are likely to be the most dangerous areas.

In conclusion: While we don’t think there is a need to panic, it is important for dog owners to know and understand the basics of this new disease. To protect your pet, make sure that Fido is current on his recommended vaccines, and watch for signs of sickness, such as coughing, fatigue, and reduced appetite. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice anything amiss. You may also want to ask your Bellevue, WA vet for advice on sending Fido to kennels or daycare, especially during the holiday rush, especially if your pet is at high risk. 
All of us here at Cat & Dog Clinic of Bellevue, your Bellevue, WA veterinary clinic, wish you and your furry pals a wonderful holiday season. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions about your dog’s health or care. We’re always here to help!