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Dog owners should make sure their pets are up-to-date on vaccines, including those for canine flu, Bordetella and parainfluenza, experts say.
From New Hampshire to Oregon, researchers are trying to figure out what’s causing an infectious respiratory disease among dogs that has, in rare cases, turned deadly.
The mystery illness is described as an “atypical canine infectious respiratory disease,” the Oregon Department of Agriculture said in a Nov. 9 news release. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, and lethargy.
Veterinarians in Oregon have reported more than 200 cases of the disease since mid-August. Other cases have been reported in Colorado, Illinois and New Hampshire.
“Based on the epidemiology of the cases reported to date, the cases appear to share a viral etiology, but common respiratory diagnostic tests have been largely negative,” Oregon State Veterinarian Dr. Ryan Scholtz told the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In other words, dogs with unidentified disease show similar signs of upper respiratory disease but usually do not test positive for common respiratory diseases. And the disease is generally resistant to standard treatments, said Dr. David B. Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and a clinical associate professor at the University of New Hampshire.
“Deaths do not seem to be a large part of the syndrome we are studying, with rare animals developing acute and sometimes fatal pneumonia after the longer chronic illness,” Needle said. “We believe this may represent a secondary infection.”
Igla said he is part of a team trying to identify the disease and find common DNA segments by collecting samples from local veterinary clinics and comparing the results.
“If what we have identified is a pathogen, it is likely that the bacterium is a host-adapted bacterium with a long history of colonizing dogs,” Needle said. An “evolutionary event” such as a spontaneous mutation or receiving a gene from a different source could have caused the bacteria to become virulent, he said.
He said researchers have received samples from Oregon and expect to receive samples from Colorado, Illinois and other states for testing.
The Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Washington has also reported cases of the mysterious canine disease, the lab’s director told CNN in an email.
“There is a spike in dogs with respiratory illnesses (cough, lethargy, fever) and the signs persist for more than a few days,” said Kevin Snekvik, the lab’s executive director and a professor at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Sneckwick said his lab in Washington has not reported any dog deaths from the mystery disease, but said labs in other states have reported several deaths.
While the news may be troubling, “We suggest caution rather than alarm,” says the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association’s website.
Although this particular disease is uncommon, “periodic outbreaks of Canine Infectious Respiratory Complex (CIRDC) can occur in the canine population. At least nine different bacteria and viruses have been implicated as the causative agents of CIRDC, which is transmitted through respiratory droplets,” the association said.
“Infection with more than one bacterial or viral agent is common. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose and/or eyes, and lethargy. If your dog shows these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.
Dog owners should help keep their pets healthy by making sure they are up to date on all vaccinations, such as those for canine influenza, Bordetella and parainfluenza, the association said. Other tips include:
• Reducing contact with a large number of unfamiliar dogs. Just as with other respiratory pathogens, the more contacts your dog has, the greater the risk of encountering a dog that is infectious.
• Reducing contact with sick dogs. This can be more difficult to determine, but if the dog seems sick (coughing, runny nose, runny eyes), keep your dog away from it.
• Keep sick dogs at home and seek veterinary care.
• Avoid common water bowls shared by several dogs.