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Mysterious Respiratory Illness Affecting Dogs Across The U.S.—Here’s What To Know

ANIMAL WATCH

ANIMAL WATCH - The Department of Agriculture and other veterinary agencies are investigating an infectious respiratory disease affecting dogs across the U.S., after several states reported incidents of dogs suffering from pneumonia-like symptoms, though little is known about the illness and how it spreads.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture first received reports of an “atypical canine infectious respiratory disease” that was circulating around Portland in August, and has since received more than 200 case reports from veterinarians, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The illness typically results in chronic mild to moderate inflammation of the trachea, chronic pneumonia that is “minimally” responsive to antibiotics, or acute pneumonia that “rapidly” becomes severe and “often leads to poor outcomes” within 24 to 36 hours, according to the ODA.

Colorado State University reported a “contagious illness leading to upper respiratory infection” among dogs in the state last week, adding that initial clinical tests indicated that dogs with the illness have a virus that “primarily targets the respiratory system,” which could result in bacterial infection and pneumonia.

The “mode of transmission” remains unknown, according to the university, which noted it was studying whether the illness was a new virus, bacteria or a “more pathogenic form of a known agent.”

Both Colorado State and the ODA—which said dog owners should make sure their animals are fully vaccinated—noted they were collaborating with the Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory to study the “causative agent” behind the illness.

At least 10 other states have reported cases similar to the illness in recent months, according to Today: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, Idaho, Georgia and Florida.

Crucial Quote

Lindsey Ganzer, chief executive of a Colorado Springs-based veterinary center, told the New York Times that she has treated at least 35 dogs with the illness since late October, adding: “The veterinary community as a whole is kind of scared.”

What We Don’t Know

What’s causing the illness, how widespread it is and how it spreads. David Needle, a veterinary pathologist at the University of New Hampshire, told the Associated Press that he has been researching the illness for nearly a year. Mike Hutchinson, a veterinarian from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, told CBS that the illness is similar to kennel cough, though this illness is highly contagious and “nobody knows what it is.”

Key Background

Respiratory illness among dogs is shown through several symptoms, including “progressive coughing” in addition to eye or nasal discharge, lethargy and sneezing, according to Colorado State, which advised against social events with other dogs until more is known about the illness. The most common respiratory disease among dogs is kennel cough, which typically spreads through kennels, shelters or other daycare facilities, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most cases of kennel cough are mild and dogs typically recover within seven to 10 days. Dogs can recover from a respiratory illness on their own without the help of antibiotics, the agency said, though more severe cases may require intensive care, including oxygen supplementation.

Tangent

There have been reports of other respiratory illnesses affecting dogs in animal shelters in recent weeks. The San Diego Humane Society reported that four dogs had died because of a “severe respiratory canine illness,” though the illness was linked to Strep Zoo and Mycoplasma bacteria. Another outbreak of Strep Zoo bacterial infections was reported by the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas last month.

(Ty Roush covers breaking news for Forbes. Before Forbes, I worked as a reporter for USA Today in Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina. I received my bachelor's degree in journalism from Auburn University and my master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. This story was first published in Forbes.)