A mysterious respiratory illness is causing illness and death among dogs across parts of the United States, prompting some animal shelters to temporarily close their doors.
Prince George’s County Animal Shelter Closes After Outbreak
The Prince George’s County Animal Shelter in Maryland announced this week that it is temporarily closing its facility after several dogs developed respiratory illnesses. At least six dogs showed signs of a respiratory infection, including coughing, sneezing and lethargy.
Tests for known pathogens like canine influenza came back negative, puzzling shelter staff and veterinarians. “We’re waiting to identify the causative agent here so we can specifically test for it,” said the county’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Elaine Anderson.
While the shelter undergoes a deep cleaning, all adoption activities are suspended until further notice. County officials say additional tests are being conducted to identify the source of the outbreak.
Mysterious Respiratory Illness Affecting Shelters Nationwide
The temporary closure in Prince George’s County reflects a worrying trend at animal shelters across the country. California, South Carolina, Colorado and Illinois have all reported dogs falling ill with respiratory illnesses that do not match common illnesses like kennel cough.
Symptoms are consistent with a respiratory infection and can include:
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
|Vermilion County, Illinois
|Over two dozen dogs affected at animal shelter, some did not survive
|Wheat Ridge, Colorado
|Multiple dogs fell ill after staying at dog care facility
|Los Angeles County, California
|Increased respiratory illnesses making veterinarian visits concerning for owners
Testing has come back negative for known illnesses like canine influenza, canine parainfluenza, Streptococcus equi subsp zooepidemicus, and canine respiratory coronavirus.
Without being able to pinpoint the causative agent, treatment options are limited for affected dogs. Supportive care like intravenous fluids and nutritional support help stabilize dogs until their immune system can fight off the infection.
Investigations Underway to Identify Source
With the growing number of cases nationwide, investigators are searching for a possible common source. Some initial theories are:
Adenovirus spread: A canine adenovirus spread through contact with infected saliva or feces is one possibility being explored. While adenoviruses typically cause gastrointestinal or eye issues in dogs, respiratory complications can sometimes occur.
Evolution of known pathogen: Experts say it’s possible a known canine respiratory pathogen has mutated into a new strain not covered by current diagnostic tests, allowing it to evade detection.
Novel pathogen: A new respiratory pathogen affecting dogs may have emerged, similar to how COVID-19 likely originated from animal populations before jumping to humans.
Identifying whether cases share a common underlying cause or if separate pathogens are circulating in different regions is a priority for investigators. Extensive testing of samples from affected dogs has been underway for over two months at diagnostic labs affiliated with state agriculture and veterinary divisions.
Pet Owners Advised to Take Precautions
While the outbreak investigation continues, veterinarians are advising concerned dog owners to take precautions when interacting with unknown dogs. Recommendations include:
- Avoiding crowded dog parks or daycares
- Preventing contact with respiratory secretions from unknown dogs
- Monitoring your dog for signs of respiratory illness
- Contacting your vet if your dog seems ill
Veterinarians also emphasize the importance of keeping pets up to date on core vaccinations like Bordetella, which protects against some causes of kennel cough. Routine vaccinations reduce the chances of co-infections that could worsen illness severity.
With so much still unknown about the respiratory outbreak in dogs, officials say open communication and vigilance within the veterinary community will be key to identifying patterns and risk factors. In the meantime, pet owners should apply reasonable precautions without panicking, as the majority of dogs nationwide remain unaffected.
Outlook Remains Uncertain
Until a causative agent is found, the clinical outlook remains uncertain. It’s possible cases may resolve on their own or that veterinarians will identify an effective treatment based on the symptoms. However, without knowing the underlying trigger, the risk of continued spread or future re-emergence remains.
Public health officials say determining the source and necessary controls is essential before another wave of illnesses recurs. While the current outbreak has predominantly affected shelter dogs, officials warn a spill-over to household pets and potential exposure to humans is possible if the pathogen spreads unchecked.
As investigators race to solve the mystery illness, the veterinary community must continue pooling resources and information. Stopping the outbreak will require open data sharing and cooperation across state lines. While the temporary shelter closures present an operational challenge, protecting canine health is the top priority during this unusual outbreak.
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