Vets across the country are monitoring dogs for a mysterious and potentially fatal illness that has sickened hundreds already.
With reported cases in several states, including Illinois, the respiratory illness is largely resistant to antibiotics and has already led to some fatalities.
With many traveling for the holidays, here's a look at what vets know so far about the infection and what pet owners should watch for:
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What is the illness?
The American Veterinary Medical Association said it is monitoring reports of a canine respiratory illness across the country.
In Oregon alone, more than 200 cases have already been reported from veterinarians since mid-August, but other cases have been reported in other U.S. states as well.
"Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials are working with state and national diagnostic laboratories to identify the causative pathogen, are asking veterinarians to report cases to the department as soon as possible, and advise dog owners to work with a veterinarian if their pet is ill," the association told NBC Chicago in a statement. "The Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences says, ‘The possible virus, which is under intense observation by Colorado State University veterinarians, has been linked to cases of severe pneumonia and, tragically, resulted in some fatalities.'"
The AVMA said it's not clear what's causing the virus so far, but that is under investigation.
Labs across the country have been sharing their findings as they try to pinpoint the culprit.
David Needle, senior veterinary pathologist at the University of New Hampshire's New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, has been investigating the mysterious disease for almost a year.
Dogs have died, said Kurt Williams, director of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University. But without a clear way to define the disease or test for it, he said it's hard to put a number on how many died from a severe form of the infection.
What symptoms should dog owners watch for?
In addition to coughing, sneezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, trouble breathing and fatigue have also been observed, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Dogs who exhibit symptoms may also test negative for common causes of respiratory illnesses.
Dog owners who observe any of the above symptoms are advised to take their dog to a vet immediately.
The AVMA said cases have primarily fallen into "three general clinical syndromes," including:
- Chronic mild-moderate tracheobronchitis with a prolonged duration (6-8 weeks or longer) that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics.
- Chronic pneumonia that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics.
- Acute pneumonia that rapidly becomes severe and often leads to poor outcomes in as little as 24-36 hours.
Where have cases been reported so far?
TODAY reports that veterinarians in the following states are confirmed to have observed cases that match the description of the illness:
- New Hampshire
Needle's lab and colleagues at the university's Hubbard Center for Genome Research have looked at samples from dogs in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and more will be coming from Oregon, Colorado and possibly other states.
What can you do to prevent it?
While vets encourage dog owners to keep their furry friends away from places where other dogs are likely to be, it is stressed that dogs in need of veterinary care are seen as soon as symptoms are shown.
Vets also advise owners to ensure that their dogs are up to date with necessary vaccinations.
Dog owners are advised to contact their veterinarian ahead of exposing their dogs to an environment with multiple other dogs.
Needle said his team has not seen a large increase in dogs dying from the illness but still encouraged pet owners to “decrease contact with other dogs.”
Though dog owners are advised to be careful, experts also clarify that owners should caution rather than worry, offering the following tips to help protect dogs from respiratory illnesses:
- Reducing contact with large numbers of unknown dogs. Just like with other respiratory pathogens, the more contacts your dog has, the greater the risk of encountering a dog that’s infectious.
- Reducing contact with sick dogs. This can be harder to determine but if a dog looks sick (coughing, runny nose, runny eyes), keep your dog away from it.
- Keep sick dogs at home and seek veterinary care.
- Avoid communal water bowls shared by multiple dogs.
- Ask your veterinarian for advice on which vaccinations your dog should have. Common vaccinations include canine influenza, Bordetella and parainfluenza.
- If it's sick, consider having your dog tested with a PCR test to help determine the causative agent (viral/bacterial), if possible.
Williams had a simple message for dog owners: “Don’t panic.” He also said dog owners should make sure that their pets are up to date on vaccines, including those that protect against various respiratory illnesses.