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Scientists still unsure what's causing mysterious, potentially fatal respiratory illness in dogs

Experts say make sure your dog is vaccinated and avoid dog parks.

Published: December 1, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: December 2, 2023 10:06am

Scientists are still unsure what is the exact cause of a mysterious, sometimes fatal respiratory illness in dogs that has now been detected in 14 states.

Symptoms include sneezing, lethargy and loss of appetite – similar to those found in what is known as "kennel cough."

Among the states reporting cases are Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Rhode Island.  

University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory senior veterinary pathologist David Needle told the news outlet Axios that his research appears to show the disease is spread through close contact of an infected animal.

The Director of Oregon Veterinary Diagnostics Lab, Dr. Kurt Williams, is telling pet owners to make sure their dogs are vaccinated and to avoid taking them to dog parks until more information is available.

“It would be prudent, first and foremost, to make sure your dog is fully vaccinated,” Dr. Williams said in an interview with Fox 12. “I think it would not be a bad idea to perhaps avoid possible situations where your dog is mingling with many other dogs. So, at boarding facilities, or dog parks, or something like that.”

The illness is thought to be new and perhaps first detected in 2022 in New Hampshire, according to National Geographic, which also reports it is resistant to most treatments, including anti-inflammatories. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association is working with pathologists and virologists to learn more about what some suspect is a virus.

"As a pet owner in Maryland, I am incredibly concerned with this virus, especially since this virus is respiratory in nature and my dog is a pug," Maryland resident Annie Moreno said. "Pugs already have respiratory issues. Such struggles are natural for them due to their flat-faced complexions. I'm wondering if this virus could pose an even greater threat to flat-faced breeds."

She also says that making others aware of the illness is one of the best ways to avoid its spread.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has already taken precautions. 

"The Maryland SPCA has successfully managed several viral exposures in the past few months, including Parvovirus and Canine H3N2 Influenza," a spokesperson for the group told Just the News.

"Our shelter has procedures in place to help mitigate outbreak scenarios that include [Personal Protective Equipment] protocols for staff when handling sick animals, and isolation areas to prevent direct interaction of potentially contagious residents."

The group also said: "Our veterinary team is monitoring the mystery illness closely and suggests that members of the public keep their dogs up to date on their vaccines and avoid any voluntary pet gatherings. Owners should observe their pets closely and report any illnesses to their veterinarian."

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