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The Mysterious Canine Respiratory Disease: Key Facts For Waterdown, ON Dog Owners

December 15, 2023

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 Canadian pet owners to be aware of. Cases have been reported in at least 16 American states, as well as here in Canada. 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 Waterdown, ON veterinary offers some information on the issue in this article.

Where Are The Mysterious Dog Illness Outbreaks?

Several U.S. 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. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, cases have also been reported here in Canada.

However, these numbers may not be precise. Most places 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, have similar ones. In fact, canine respiratory issues are sometimes grouped under the umbrella term ‘kennel cough’.

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.

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 animals. 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 Canine Buddy From The 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 bestie is fully up to date on key vaccines. While the Bordetella vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, it’s recommended—and usually required—for pups that are going to be in contact with other dogs, whether at daycare, boarding facilities, parks, or even playdates. Ask your vet for more information.

It’s also important to 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!

What Is The Mystery Dog Illness?

That’s the big question: the illness hasn’t been positively identified yet. 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 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 particularly good. Kennel cough usually clears up with proper treatment. However, the new illness doesn’t respond to the standard treatments. Dogs may also develop a long-term case or a secondary infection. 

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 continued to deteriorate. 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.

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 from 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. 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 the most common sign. That cough may start mildly, and then accelerate. It also may linger for weeks and, in many cases, worsened into pneumonia.

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; rapid, labored breathing; fever; wheezing; loss of appetite; weight loss; and dehydration. 

Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these. However, because of the possibility of contagion, before bringing Fido into the clinic, contact your Waterdown, ON animal 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.

Conclusion: While there is no need to panic, it’s important to know the signs of the mystery illness. These include coughing, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, and nasal discharge. Contact your Waterdown, ON vet for more information.

Our Advice on The Mysterious Canine Respiratory Disease in 2024

What specific tests are being used to rule out other known respiratory illnesses in dogs?

To rule out other known respiratory illnesses in dogs, veterinarians typically use a combination of diagnostic tests. These include PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to detect specific viral and bacterial pathogens such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine parainfluenza, and canine adenovirus. Additionally, blood tests, chest X-rays, and microbial cultures of nasal or throat swabs are conducted to identify common respiratory pathogens and assess the extent of infection. By ruling out these known illnesses, veterinarians can more accurately identify cases of the mysterious canine respiratory disease and provide appropriate care.

How long does it typically take for symptoms to appear after a dog is exposed to the mystery illness?

Symptoms of the mystery canine respiratory illness typically appear within a few days to a week after exposure. Initial signs may include mild coughing, which can quickly escalate to more severe respiratory issues such as persistent coughing, lethargy, nasal discharge, and labored breathing. The progression of the illness can be rapid, with some dogs developing pneumonia or other serious complications. Early detection and prompt veterinary care are crucial to managing symptoms and improving outcomes for affected dogs. Monitoring your dog closely and seeking veterinary advice at the first sign of illness is essential.

Are certain breeds, ages, or health conditions in dogs more susceptible to contracting the illness or having severe symptoms?

Certain breeds, ages, and health conditions can make dogs more susceptible to contracting the mystery illness or experiencing severe symptoms. Puppies, senior dogs, and those with compromised immune systems or preexisting respiratory conditions are at higher risk. Breeds with brachycephalic (short-nosed) features, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, may also be more prone to severe respiratory issues due to their anatomy. Overall, maintaining up-to-date vaccinations and regular veterinary check-ups can help mitigate risks and ensure early detection and treatment, reducing the potential impact of the illness on vulnerable dogs.

How long does it take most dogs to recover fully from the illness with proper veterinary care?

With proper veterinary care, most dogs affected by the mysterious respiratory illness take several weeks to recover fully. The initial phase of treatment focuses on managing symptoms such as coughing, lethargy, and breathing difficulties. Recovery times can vary depending on the severity of the illness and the individual dog’s health condition. Some dogs may require extended care, including antibiotics for secondary infections or supportive therapies like fluid administration and oxygen support. Monitoring and follow-up visits are essential to ensure the dog regains full health and to address any lingering issues.

What is the current fatality rate of dogs that have contracted this illness?

The current fatality rate of dogs that have contracted the mysterious respiratory illness is still being determined due to ongoing research and varying case reports. However, the article indicates that while many dogs recover with proper treatment, some cases have resulted in fatalities, particularly when the illness progresses rapidly or leads to severe complications such as pneumonia. Young, healthy dogs have also succumbed to the illness, highlighting its seriousness. Pet owners should remain vigilant and seek prompt veterinary care if symptoms appear to improve outcomes and reduce the risk of fatality.

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

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