Laboratories in at least four states are investigating a mysterious respiratory illness in dogs presenting similar symptoms to kennel cough, but they can last much longer, and in some cases prove fatal, according to veterinarians.
The infected dogs develop a cough, fever, lethargy and intermittent loss of appetite. Veterinarians said the undetermined illness has led to hospitalizations and the deaths of older dogs or those with health issues.
Though there is no official count of the number of infections, veterinarians said they have treated more dogs with these symptoms in the last few months. Cases have been reported in at least four states: Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, but experts suspect that the illness is much more widespread.
Dr. Lindsey Ganzer, a veterinarian and chief executive at North Springs Veterinary Referral Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., said that she has treated about 35 dogs with the illness since late October.
Four dogs had to be euthanized or died. She said she has treated infected dogs of a range of breeds and ages. Some only had a cough and others had pneumonia, she said.
There was, however, one commonality among them: They spent time in places with a high concentration of dogs, such as boarding facilities, doggy day care or dog parks. Dr. Ganzer said she fears that veterinarians may see an increase in cases as more owners board their dogs or send them to day care during the holidays.
“We’re really hoping just with getting the word out there that people are less inclined to do that,” she said. “The veterinary community as a whole is kind of scared.”
Since mid-August, veterinarians in Oregon have reported more than 200 cases, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Dr. Stephen Kochis, the chief medical officer for the Oregon Humane Society, said he does not want people to panic because this figure represents a small number of all the dogs in the state.
“We are not seeing an uptick in respiratory disease outside of the ordinary expectation for pets that would get respiratory disease,” he said. He added that there are many respiratory illnesses that are treatable.
Dogs with kennel cough, for instance, may show similar symptoms, such as coughing, lack of appetite, fever and lethargy, which usually clear up in one to three weeks. Owners should not be anxious if their dogs show symptoms of this emerging illness but they should be proactive.
“All of us have gone through Covid,” he said. “I would say if your dog is showing signs of respiratory disease, isolate them in the home, call your vet, get them seen.”
Typically, dogs can recuperate from a respiratory illness on their own or with the help of antibiotics but that is not always the case with this latest illness, said Dr. Kurt Williams, director of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University.
“In these dogs, either it lingered for longer or it took a downward spiral and led to very serious outcomes, including death,” he said.
Experts are unsure whether the illness is caused by a bacteria or virus. Some veterinarians in Oregon hypothesize that it could be viral because the dogs they have treated have not responded to antibiotics.
“I’m open to it being either, and I’m open to it being something we’re not even thinking about,” Dr. Williams said.
Dr. David Needle, senior veterinary pathologist at the University of New Hampshire’s New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, has been researching the illness for about a year.
Dr. Needle, with his colleagues at the university’s Hubbard Center for Genome Research, hope to gain clarity after running tests to determine whether the organism causing the illness based on samples from across the country share the same genetic makeup.
“There is something significant happening,” he said. “Whether or not it’s the same thing has yet to be seen.”