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The Mysterious Canine Respiratory Disease: What Bellaire, TX Dog Owners Should Know
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 pet owners to be aware of. A local Bellaire, TX vet offers some information on this issue in this article.

What Is The Mystery Dog Illness?

That’s the big question: the illness hasn’t been positively identified. We don’t yet know 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 quite similar to kennel cough. It may even be referred to as such. 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. 

The biggest distinction between kennel cough and the mystery illness isn’t exactly good. Kennel cough usually clears up with proper treatment. However, the new illness doesn’t respond to the standard treatments.

The severity of the illness is another thing that makes it concerning. Infected dogs also often get very sick very fast. Although many pooches recover with proper treatment, others have deteriorated. Some pups required surgical removal of infected tissue, while others were put on ventilators. Fido may also develop a long-term case or a secondary infection. Several dogs have died, with some succumbing at an alarmingly fast rate. To better understand how allergies might complicate respiratory issues in dogs, read more about ‘Allergies In Dogs‘. If your dog is showing signs of allergies or dermatological issues alongside respiratory symptoms, consider consulting ‘Pet Allergies & Veterinary Dermatology‘ for expert care. Ask your Bellaire, TX veterinarian for more information. 

What Causes The Mystery Illness?

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 have recently announced that they have identified a pathogen. This information was based on 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 Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and got sick this year.

As to the pathogen itself? It doesn’t have an official name, but 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 for very long 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 dogs that have been diagnosed with the mystery canine respiratory illness test negative for more common respiratory illnesses. They also struggle to get over the infection. Usually, dogs’ coughs  last about a week or so. This one is much more stubborn, and often just won’t go away.

What Are The Signs Of The Mysterious Dog Illness?

Signs of the mystery illness include coughing, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, and nasal discharge. 

Coughing is the most common sign. That cough may start mildly, and then accelerate. It also may linger for weeks and/or worsen into pneumonia.

Rapid, labored breathing is another red flag. Lethargy is also pretty high on the list. Your four-legged buddy may seem extremely tired, and may want to spend his time snoozing in his doggy bed, instead of playing or cuddling. Other warning signs include discharge from the eyes or nose; fever; wheezing; loss of appetite; weight loss; and dehydration.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, contact your vet right away. 

As you may know, we are an emergency veterinary clinic for Bellaire, TX. We always advise that people give us a call before coming in, but that goes double in this case, because of the risk of contagion. 

Where Are The Mysterious Dog Respiratory Illness Outbreaks?

Outbreaks—or suspected outbreaks— have been reported in several states. 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. However, it’s likely that there are other pockets of infection throughout the country. 

Can I Catch The Mysterious Dog Disease?

Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations suggests that the risk of human contagion is extremely low. We’re also happy to report that the illness does not appear to be sickening other animals. 

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 Dog From 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 disease. But there are things you can do to lower Fido’s risk of contagion.

First and foremost, make sure that your furry buddy is fully up to date on key vaccines. While the Bordetella vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, it’s recommended for pups that are going to be in contact with other dogs, whether at daycare, boarding kennels, groomers’, dog parks, or even playdates. Ask your vet for more information.

Keep an eye out for symptoms, and contact your vet right away if you notice any. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better!

It’s also important to note that 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 brachys, such as pugs and bulldogs. 

How Bad Is The Mystery Canine Illness Outbreak?

Cases of the respiratory disease have been reported in at least 16 states, with several more suspected cases in other areas. Unfortunately, several dogs have succumbed to the disease. Official warnings have been issued by several groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and both Colorado and Oregon’s departments of agriculture. 

Keep in mind that most states are not formally tracking the canine mystery disease outbreak, so there is no official record. Additionally, many of the cases have been reported based on symptoms. That is one reason tracking the outbreak can get tricky. Several other respiratory issues, such as Bordetella and canine parainfluenza, cause similar symptoms. In fact, canine respiratory issues are sometimes grouped under the umbrella term ‘kennel cough’, which includes both viral and bacterial diseases.

There may also be some false negatives. This is not unusual when testing for specific pathogens. This is because there is a window between the time when a dog becomes contagious and when symptoms become severe enough for that pooch to require veterinary care. In other words, pooches can spread the disease before it affects them.

How Does The Mystery Canine Respiratory Illness Spread?

The culprit here seems to be close contact. As with many other respiratory diseases, pups often get sick after breathing the same air as infected pooches and/or sharing bowls, toys, and dishes. (Fido’s habit of greeting his buddies by sniffing their noses may also come into play here.)  

As one may expect, the risk of infection increases if there are many dogs gathered. Some of the potential hotspots for infection include dog groomers’ salons, kennels, dog parks, and doggy daycares. However, an encounter with a single infected pooch is all it takes. 

You don’t necessarily need to quarantine your canine companion, though your vet may recommend this if he is at high risk. Just take some precautions. If you’re planning to board or travel with Fido, find out if any of the pups at his destinations have been afflicted. If you’re using a kennel or groomer this month, talk to them about it. If they don’t seem to be taking the issue seriously, you may want to rethink things. Ask your veterinarian for specific advice.

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