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Canine Respiratory Disease: What Peterborough, ON Dog Owners Need to Know

December 15, 2023

Have you been watching the news lately? If so, you may want to monitor a new doggy disease that is spreading through North America. This mysterious illness is definitely something pet owners need to be aware of. While we’re focusing on health concerns today, it’s worth noting that there’s also positive dog-related news out there, like the celebration of August 1st Is DOGust Day – The Universal Birthday for Shelter Dogs. But for now, let’s turn our attention to this important health issue. Here, a local Peterborough, ON vet offers some information on this issue.

The Mystery Dog Illness: What Is It?

We still have lots to learn here. We do know that the mystery illness seems to be adept at avoiding and defeating Fido’s natural immune system. For instance, it’s still unclear whether this is a new disease or a strain of something familiar. It’s also possible, though unlikely, that not all outbreaks are caused by the same organism.

Having said that, here is what we do know:

This mystery illness resembles kennel cough, and may even be referred to as such. However, it’s important to keep in mind that kennel cough is not a single disease: the term can refer to many respiratory illnesses in dogs.

As for the main difference between kennel cough and the mystery illness, well, it’s not exactly good. Kennel cough usually goes away with proper treatment, while the new illness doesn’t always respond to standard treatments.

Another concern is the severity of the illness. Dogs who contract the illness can become extremely ill very quickly. Although many recover with proper treatment, that isn’t always the case. Some pups needed surgery to remove infected tissue, while others had to be put on ventilators. If Fido develops a long-term case or a secondary infection, he may also be facing a fight. Ask your Peterborough, ON  veterinarian  for more information.

What Causes The Mystery Canine Respiratory Illness?

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnosis Laboratory and the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies have identified a specific pathogen as a potential culprit. Genetic samples of about 70 dogs were used in the study. Around 30 of the dogs were infected last year in New Hampshire. The others  were infected this year in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

How Do Veterinarians DIagnose The Mystery Illness?

There is no definitive test for diagnosing mystery canine respiratory illness. However, the infected dogs have tested negative for more common respiratory illnesses. 

Another way to tell is the fact that many pooches have difficulty getting over the infection. Dogs usually cough for about a week. However, this one is much more stubborn, and often won’t go away.

To accurately diagnose and monitor your dog’s health, especially in light of this new respiratory illness, we offer comprehensive Veterinary Diagnostics services. These advanced diagnostic tools can help us identify or rule out various conditions, even if we can’t yet test specifically for this new illness.

What Are Signs Of The Mysterious Dog Illness?

Coughing, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, and nasal discharge are the most commonly-reported signs.

The most common symptom is coughing, which may begin mildly and then accelerate. That cough may last for weeks and/or worsen into pneumonia. In some cases, dogs get very, very sick after just 24 to 48 hours.

Wheezing is another red flag, as is rapid, labored breathing. Other warning signs include lethargy, discharge from the eyes or nose, fever, weight loss, and dehydration. Your four-legged buddy may seem exhausted, and may prefer to rest in his doggy bed rather than play Fetch, beg for walks or treats, or cuddle. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms in your pet. If your pooch is sick enough to warrant emergency care, call the clinic before going in to let them know, so they can take steps to reduce the risk of contagion.

The Mysterious Dog Respiratory Illness Outbreaks: Where Are They Happening?

Several American states have reported outbreaks, or suspected outbreaks. California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington are all included in the official list. In Oregon alone, more than 200 cases have been reported since August. However, it is likely that there are other pockets of infection throughout the U.S. as well. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, cases have also been confirmed here in Canada.

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

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations, the risk of human contagion is extremely low. Moreover, we are pleased to report that, at least so far, the illness does not seem to be spreading to other animals. However, you should still wash your hands thoroughly after petting or handling Fido to reduce the spread of germs.

What Can I Do To Protect My Dog From The Mystery Illness?

There is no foolproof way to prevent your canine companion from contracting the respiratory disease, at least until the culprit is identified and a vaccine developed. There are, however, things you can do to lower Fido’s risk.

The first thing you should do is make sure your pet is fully immunized. In addition to the core vaccines, we recommend Bordetella for pups who will be in contact with other dogs, whether they attend daycare, boarding kennels, groomers, dog parks, or even playdates. For more information, please contact your veterinarian right away. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better.

Some pups are more at risk than others. Dogs with compromised immune systems and/or known respiratory issues are most at risk. Young puppies are also in danger, as are brachycephalic dogs, such as pugs and bulldogs. 

How Serious Is This  Mystery Canine Illness Outbreak?

At least 16 American states have reported cases of the respiratory disease, and several more are suspected. A number of dogs have succumbed to the disease. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), as well as Colorado and Oregon’s departments of agriculture, have issued official warnings. Unfortunately, the problem seems to have crossed the border: cases have been found in Canada.

Most places are not formally monitoring the canine illness outbreak, in large part because there is no definitive test for it. Furthermore, numerous reports have been based on observable symptoms, rather than test results. To complicate matters further, several other doggy  respiratory problems, like Bordetella and canine parainfluenza, cause similar symptoms. In fact, many canine respiratory issues are often grouped together under the term “kennel cough”, which encompasses both viral and bacterial diseases.

A false negative may also occur when testing for specific pathogens. As a result, dogs can spread the disease before they are affected. In other words, there is a window between the time they become contagious and when they become severe enough to require veterinary care. In that time, Fido may spread the illness to all of his buddies and playmates.

What Is Behind The Spread Of The Mystery Canine Respiratory Illness?

Close contact seems to be the culprit here. As with many other respiratory diseases, pups often get sick from breathing the same air as infected dogs, and/or sharing bowls, toys, and dishes with them. (Fido’s habit of sniffing his buddies’ noses may also play a part.)

The risk of infection increases when there are many dogs gathered. Potential hotspots for infection include groomers’ salons, kennels, dog parks, and doggy daycares. Keep in mind that one infected dog is all it takes to spread the virus.

Though your vet may recommend quarantining your dog if he is at high risk, you do not necessarily need to cancel everything on Fido’s doggy calendar. Just be sure to take precautions. If you’re using a kennel or groomer this month, talk to them about the issue. As always, ask your Peterborough, ON veterinarian for more information.

Contact us, your local Peterborough, ON pet hospital, with any questions you may have about your dog’s health or care.