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May 26, 2024

Mysterious Respiratory Illness Strikes Dogs Across U.S.

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Nov 28, 2023

A mysterious respiratory illness is spreading among dogs across the United States, causing symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea. As of November 29th, 2023, cases have been reported in over a dozen states. While the exact cause remains unknown, veterinarians suspect it may be a new virus and are working urgently to identify it.

Illness Spreads Rapidly Across Multiple States

The respiratory illness was first noted by veterinarians in northern Michigan around August 2022. However, over the past month, the disease seems to have rapidly spread to many parts of the country.

As of November 27th, 2023, confirmed or suspected cases have occurred in 14 states – Michigan, New York, Maine, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Georgia, California and North Carolina. The sudden uptick has veterinary experts concerned and working to determine the exact cause.

Symptoms Being Reported

Dogs affected with the mysterious respiratory illness display consistent symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing and nasal discharge. Fatigue, loss of appetite and diarrhea have also been frequently reported. Most concerning is that some cases have resulted in death within a few days of onset.

Dr. Lindsay Merkel, a veterinarian at Hands of Hope Animal Hospital in Georgia told 13WMAZ:

"The dogs will have a persistent cough and difficulty with breathing, a lot of discharge from their nose. You know possibly a lot of phlegm in their mouth that they’re kind of salivating and gagging on almost."

She added that some dogs are deteriorating rapidly, despite having been healthy just days before. This indicates an aggressive illness that demands urgent attention.

Investigations Underway to Determine Exact Cause

With cases being reported across state lines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now investigating along with state agencies. Researchers are working to identify if this is a new virus or bacteria – and how it is spreading.

Dr. Nora Wineland, a veterinary pathologist at Upstate Veterinary Specialties in New York, told CBS Sacramento:

“It’s so new, it’s going to take some time to understand what’s happening.”

She expects testing at advanced veterinary diagnostic labs will uncover the culprit, but gathering samples from sick dogs in various states will take time:

“Working through this systematically and not jumping to conclusions before we have the data is how we are going to understand how best to stop disease spread.”

Theories on Potential Causes

Without confirmation of the exact cause, veterinarians have speculated what could be behind the mysterious dog illness based on the consistent symptoms being observed:

  • New respiratory virus – Many suspect a new type of virus targeting dogs that causes pneumonia-like breathing issues. Viruses like canine influenza or distemper could be mutating or crossing over from wildlife reservoirs.
  • Vector-borne disease – Diseases transmitted by parasites like ticks and mosquitos are harder to diagnose and contain. A bacteria or Rickettsial organism infecting dogs’ lungs is possible.
  • Toxins or environmental factors – Exposure to toxins, dusts or particulates could also cause the respiratory reaction. This would require tracing dogs back to a common location.

Further diagnostic testing is needed to determine which one (or more) of these theories is the culprit. For now, veterinarians are treating based on symptoms and warning dog owners to take precautions.

Advice to Dog Owners Amid Mystery Outbreak

Despite not knowing the exact cause of the respiratory illness, veterinary experts are advising dog owners across the country to take measures in order to keep their pets safe. Recommendations include:

  • Avoid interaction with unknown dogs
  • Skip the dog park
  • Prevent sniffing on walks
  • Monitor your dog’s respiratory signs
  • Contact your vet if symptoms arise

Restricting a dog’s exposure other ill pets reduces risk until the disease is better understood. Vigilance in watching for symptoms like cough, difficulty breathing or diarrhea is also crucial to get prompt veterinary care if illness does occur.

What To Do If Your Dog Has Symptoms

If a dog starts displaying concerning respiratory signs like persistent cough, labored breathing, loss of energy or appetite – veterinary care should be sought right away as this illness can progress rapidly.

Be prepared to describe the symptoms in detail and when they first began. With hospitals taking precautions amidst the outbreak, a curbside check-in process may be followed to protect staff and other patients.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, options range from outpatient medications to hospitalization with oxygen support and intravenous fluids. Some vets are trying treatment with a fluoroquinolone antibiotic called marbofloxacin that has helped dogs recover in a few days.

Sadly, even with intensive care, some affected dogs have passed away due to what appears to be an overwhelming infection. Having an ill dog seen quickly and getting them on supportive care gives them the best chance possible.

Quarantines Enacted in Some Animal Shelters

With so many unknowns about how this disease spreads and which dogs may carry it, some animal shelters are taking proactive steps to protect their resident dog populations by quarantining.

Last week at the Kern Animal Services shelter in Bakersfield, California, two dogs died and four others fell ill with respiratory symptoms. In response, all incoming dogs will be isolated for a 10-day observation period before joining the main shelter population.

Similar intake quarantines are being implemented in many cities until veterinarians better understand when affected dogs become contagious. This will delay some dog adoptions, but protect others from potential exposure.

Investigation Efforts Expanding

With more states reporting possible cases, the diagnostic investigation is expanding rapidly. The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and other large veterinary medical labs are now receiving samples from sick dogs across the country.

"We’re investigating whether known pathogens are causing the disease or if this is potentially a new virus or bacteria," said Dr. Sara Thomasy, an infectious disease specialist at UC Davis in a CBS News interview.

Identifying the infectious agent will allow development of targeted diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines if needed to contain disease spread.

In the meantime, tracking the locations of suspected cases, exposures between sick dogs, and potential wildlife interactions may shed light on how the disease is moving between states so rapidly.

No Cases Confirmed Internationally Yet

So far, respiratory illness cases seem limited only to dogs in scattered U.S. states. Veterinary groups in Canada have reported no similar outbreaks. Routine testing of imported dogs should help prevent global spread.

Concerns Over Canine Influenza Also Circulating

While the unknown respiratory illness grabs headlines, veterinarians caution the virus causing canine influenza is also currently active in many regions.

Canine flu produces similar coughing and breathing difficulty, but is a known virus with available diagnostic tests and vaccines. However, dogs vulnerable from other illnesses may have more severe reactions if co-infected with multiple pathogens attacking lung tissues.

Key Unanswered Questions

With reports of the mysterious respiratory disease increasing daily, numerous questions remain unsolved by veterinary investigators across the country:

  • What is the causative agent? – Diagnostic testing is frantically working to isolate the infectious pathogen.
  • How is it spreading geographically? – The interstate spread implies transportation of infected dogs. Shelters are especially concerned.
  • Can wildlife species spread the pathogen? – Many illness reservoirs bounce between wild animals and domestic pets.
  • Is it transmittable to humans? – Zoonotic risk is always a concern with emerging outbreaks. The CDC is actively investigating.
  • What is the source location? – Early tracking shows some geographic patterns, but pinpointing the origin has proven difficult.
  • Are certain breeds or ages more susceptible? – Pattern analysis in case clusters may identify genetic or immune factors allowing infection.
  • How is it transmitted between dogs? – Direct contact vs. fomites or environmental persistence would alter outbreak control recommendations.

Solving these unknowns based on epidemiological data analysis is critical for guidance to veterinarians treating current and future cases.

Call for Veterinary Vigilance Amid Outbreak Investigation

Last week, the American Veterinary Medical Association called for increased vigilance, urging veterinarians to watch for and report any suspected cases of the mysterious respiratory illness.

“We request heightened vigilance by veterinarians to help determine whether this is an emerging outbreak, or if cases have simply gone undetected previously,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, President of the AVMA.

Early case details suggest an acute, rapidly progressing pneumonia-like illness. But with awareness high, milder cases in the early or late phase are also likely to be identified. Building out a full clinical spectrum will aid future diagnosis.

“Determining the cause is complicated by the range of pathogens – known and unknown – that might be involved,” cautioned Dr. Kratt.

Continued analysis of case distribution patterns and diagnostic testing will bring clarity to the evolving outbreak. In the meantime, veterinarians are asked to employ robust infection control protocols to avoid any contagious spread through clinics and kennels.

Outlook Going Forward with Mystery Dog Disease

The sudden uptick in this mysterious respiratory disease has veterinarians concerned across the country. The rapid deterioration some dogs experience indicates substantial impact on lung tissue. Getting to answers is now at the top of the priority list for diagnostic labs at top veterinary schools.

In forthcoming weeks, experts predict:

  • Additional states will likely report cases as awareness and testing increases.
  • A specific infectious agent will hopefully be identified to direct treatment and protection efforts.
  • Prevention guidance for dog owners will be updated accordingly as transmission details emerge.
  • A validated diagnostic test will get developed once the causative pathogen is confirmed.
  • Treatments will improve as clinical infectious disease specialists share findings and follow case outcomes.
  • If the pathogen spreads efficiently between dogs, a vaccine may eventually become available to prevent illness just as with canine influenza.

While uncertainty remains high currently, veterinary medicine has extensive experience identifying and combating new infectious threats. By working rapidly together across state lines and comparing details, they expect to control this latest concerning dog disease.

In the meantime, keep dogs away from unknown ill pets, monitor them for symptoms, and contact your vet right away about testing/treatment if respiratory illness does occur. Stay tuned for updates as diagnostic details unfold in the coming days to weeks ahead.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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