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Dogs in Oregon Stricken by Mysterious Respiratory Disease

An unknown respiratory illness is spreading among dogs throughout the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and experts are still working to determine its cause.

The mysterious disease has potentially impacted hundreds of dogs in the area since August. So far, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has gathered 200 written reports from veterinarians. At this time, there is no clarity on whether the disease has spread beyond the Valley or even the state’s borders.

Unknown dog illness stumps researchers, poses deadly threat

As per Oregon Public Broadcasting News, the agriculture department issued a notice to veterinarians stating that dogs affected by this disease develop chronic tracheobronchitis or pneumonia. Specifically, in certain instances, dogs contracted severe pneumonia leading to their demise within just two days. In a statement released via email, Andrea Cantu-Schomus — a spokesperson for the agricultural office — said, “Unfortunately, very few of those dogs have received a full necropsy to determine the cause of death.”

Cantu-Schomus stated that a handful of dogs studied had underlying illnesses that eventually caused their deaths. Traditional antibiotics often used for canine respiratory ailments have proven to be unsuccessful against this particular disease. Moreover, since researchers have yet to determine the exact cause of the disease, they are unable to find appropriate treatment methods at this time.

Furthermore, the agriculture department states that there’s no evidence indicating a link between human illnesses and this disease. It also does not believe it to be connected to COVID-19.

Collaborative efforts to uncover more about canine respiratory disease in Oregon

By the time vets see most dogs, they have already gone through a “virus shedding phase” — making it possible for them to transmit the disease to other animals. To curb this, the state has collaborated with numerous emergency vet practices to begin broad PCR testing on dogs. This testing aims to detect respiratory diseases before the canines begin showing symptoms.

The state’s health department is also joining forces with pathologists and virologists from both federal and state veterinary labs, including the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University (OSU). As such, their collective aim is to identify the potential cause of the illness.

Kurt Williams is the laboratory director at OSU. He said that too little information is available about the disease to guide dog owners on preventive measures. Williams added that while respiratory diseases in dogs — such as kennel cough — are common, most fully vaccinated dogs could recover. “[Dog owners] need to make sure their dog is vaccinated for all sorts of canine pathogens, stay attuned to how their dog is behaving, and reach out to their veterinarian,” he shared.

Williams’ team has yet to establish whether the disease is viral, bacterial, or even a type of infection. The team has sent samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further genome sequencing — which is a method of examining an organism’s distinctive DNA profile. This data might help pinpoint the disease’s root cause.

Both Williams and the agriculture department are advising pet owners to consult with their vets if they have concerns.

Cantu-Schomus said that considering the wide array of potential respiratory diseases, no single recommendation fits all situations. Given that, consulting with a vet ensures pet owners have precise and appropriate information for their specific circumstances.

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