By Chris Boyette and Holly Yan | CNN
From New Hampshire to Oregon, researchers are trying to understand the cause of an infectious respiratory disease in dogs that in rare cases has proven fatal.
The mysterious 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, runny eyes or nose, and lethargy.
Oregon veterinarians have reported more than 200 cases of illness since mid-August. Other cases have been reported in Colorado, Illinois and New Hampshire.
“Based on the epidemiology of cases reported to this point, the cases appear to share a viral etiology, but routine respiratory diagnostic tests have been largely negative,” said Oregon State Veterinarian Dr. Dr. Ryan Scholz, at the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In other words, dogs with unidentified illness exhibit similar signs of upper respiratory illness, but generally do not test positive for common respiratory illnesses. And the disease is generally resistant to standard treatments, said Dr. David B. Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and clinical associate professor at the University of New Hampshire.
“Deaths do not appear to be a large part of the syndrome we are studying, with rare animals developing acute and sometimes fatal pneumonia after a longer chronic illness,” Needle said. “We think these may be secondary infections.”
Where does the disease come from?
Needle 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 identified is a pathogen, it is likely that the bacteria is a host-adapted bacteria with a long history of colonizing dogs,” Needle said. An “evolutionary event” like a spontaneous mutation or obtaining a gene from a different source could then have led 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 Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has also reported cases of a mysterious canine illness, the lab’s director told CNN in an email.
“There has been a slight increase in the number of dogs with respiratory illnesses (cough, lethargy, fever) and the signs have persisted for more than a few days,” said Kevin Snekvik, executive director of the laboratory and professor at State University. Washington. University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Snekvik said his Washington lab has not reported any dog deaths from this mysterious illness, but labs in other states have reported a few deaths.
What can dog owners do?
While the news may be concerning, “we suggest caution rather than concern,” the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association website states.
Although this particular disease is unusual, “periodic outbreaks of canine infectious respiratory diseases (CIRDC) can occur in a dog population. At least nine different bacteria and viruses have been linked as causes 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 exhibits 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 flu, Bordetella and parainfluenza, the association said. Other tips include:
• Reduce contact with large numbers of unfamiliar dogs. Just as with other respiratory pathogens, the more contact your dog has, the greater the risk of encountering a contagious dog. • Reduce contact with sick dogs. This can be harder to determine, but if a dog looks sick (cough, runny nose, runny eyes), keep him away.• Keep sick dogs at home and consult a veterinarian.• Avoid bowls common water shared by several dogs.
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