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Veterinarians Warn of Mystery Illness Killing Dogs

Veterinarians and animal shelters around the country are reporting an increase in a highly contagious mystery illness that is killing dogs. Still, the disease has experts somewhat stumped. While some continue to call infection’s source a mystery, an animal shelter in San Diego identified pathogens believed to be responsible for the death of multiple dogs.

Severe, fast-moving, and highly contagious

It all begins with a cough. A normal case of kennel cough, according to veterinarians, presents the same symptoms as this mysterious illness: coughing, loss of appetite, runny nose, lethargy, and sometimes a low fever. However, unlike kennel cough, which usually clears up in 7 to 10 days, this new illness might continue for weeks. It can even lead to fatal instances of pneumonia.

Veterinarians believe it is a new virus infecting younger canines and causing lengthier illnesses. Additionally, the usual treatment for pneumonia in dogs may not be enough for this severe, fast-moving disease.

“I would say [there’s been] maybe a 50% increase in the number of coughing dogs we detect,” Dr. Amanda Cavanagh of Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital told Scripps News Denver. 

Cavanagh stated that the virus appeared to be spreading similar to kennel cough. Social environments, such as boarding facilities and dog parks, are particularly susceptible. Animal shelters, particularly those experiencing capacity crises from an influx of pet surrenders, struggle to combat the spread of the contagious mystery illness killing dogs.

“Some of those dogs come in with a very sudden onset of the pneumonia signs, and they are very sick. They require mechanical ventilation, so a breathing tube with a machine breathing for them,” Cavanagh said. “And many of those dogs are actually passing away or being euthanized because of this really severe, fast-moving, really intense pneumonia,” she added.

Rise in cases of mystery illness killing dogs

In other states, experts reported a concerning number of cases. According to ABC 10 News, veterinarians across Oregon reported at least 200 reports of the mystery illness to the State Department of Agriculture. The reports mentioned the deaths of multiple dogs.

In an emailed statement to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Andrea Cantu-Schomus, a department spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, stated “Unfortunately, very few of those dogs have received a full necropsy to determine the cause of death.”

The agency is also collaborating with pathologists and virologists from state and federal veterinary facilities, as well as the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University in order to determine what is causing the illness.

In North Carolina, the Wake County Animal Shelter closed due to a quickly spreading, severe illness. While the shelter reported the illness as Canine Influenza, the infected dogs showed respiratory symptoms similar to the mystery illness killing dogs across the country. At the shelter, three dogs died from the rapidly spreading disease. In response to the outbreak, the shelter temporarily closed to help stop the illness from spreading, WRAL News reported.

At the San Diego Humane Society and The Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, experts believe they have identified the two pathogens that are attacking the dogs, as per reporting by NBC-7. Mycoplasma, a bacterial infection, and Streptococcus Equi subspecies zooepidemicus, also referred to as Strep zoo, are working together. The pathogen combination has exacerbated the effect of the infection, making the illness difficult to treat.

The Animal Foundation first observed an increase in infections in late October. Since then, at least three dogs in the San Deigo shelter have died. Sadly, the shelter “humanely euthanized” another three dogs suffering from the infection, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Warning for dog owners

Jonathan Chapman, the Director of Veterinary Education at the San Deigo Humane Society, informed the public that the illness is typically confined to animal shelters. As such, it presents a minimal risk to the broader canine population. Other experts, however, hope to bring attention to dog owners.

Veterinarians like Dr. Cavanagh urged pet owners to bring any dogs showing signs of consistent coughing to a vet. “We can ultrasound the lungs to see if there is a problem that is related to pneumonia or contagious pneumonia that seems to be going around,” Cavanagh added.

Kiro 7 News reported similar advice from other veterinary professionals. Kevin Snekvik, the Executive Director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at Washington State University, warned pet owners to pay close attention to their dogs and note any symptoms of the illness.

“Your dog will run a fever and they won’t feel good, they’ll become lethargic meaning they want to lie around more when normally they’d be wanting to play outside and play, and like you mentioned the coughing part of it, if that becomes more productive more of a wet cough, like a hacking cough,” Sekvik said.

While researchers continue to understand more about the condition, it’s critical to keep an eye out for symptoms in your dogs. Consistent coughing, changes in appetite, and variances in energy levels are all warning indicators, according to veterinarians. Sekvik also advised that if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, you should take them to the vet and have them tested as soon as possible.

Vets also advise pet owners to keep dogs away from dog parks and other social settings until cases reduce.


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