Mysterious Illness in Dogs May Spread During Holidays, Vets Warn

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Nov. 21, 2023 – A mysterious respiratory illness that has sickened hundreds of dogs and is difficult to treat has caught the attention of veterinarians around the country, who worry cases may climb as people travel with their dogs or board them during the holidays.

Marked by an inflamed windpipe, the sickness is unusual because it can last 6 to 8 weeks or more and can lead to chronic pneumonia that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, according to a summary published by the American Veterinary Medical Association. A similar illness known as kennel cough usually only lasts 7 to 10 days. 

Some dogs experience “acute pneumonia that rapidly becomes severe and often leads to poor outcomes in as little as 24 to 36 hours,” the AVMA reported.

The illness has been circulating in Oregon for several months and has also been detected in dogs in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, according to The New York Times.

Colorado veterinarian Lindsey Ganzer, DVM, told the Times that four dogs died of the 35 she has treated with the illness since late October. Ganzer said all of the dogs she treated spent time in places with a lot of other dogs like dog parks or dog daycares.

Dog owners should ensure vaccines are up-to-date and monitor their dogs closely for coughing that may progress to include nasal or eye discharge and sneezing. Also, owners should think twice before joining large gatherings of dogs, according to a news release from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“We’re really hoping just with getting the word out there that people are less inclined to do that,” Ganzer said. “The veterinary community as a whole is kind of scared.”

The cause of the mystery respiratory illness is unknown.

“Contagious respiratory disease in dogs (kennel cough or the canine infectious respiratory disease complex) is common and there are multiple viral and bacterial causes,” said Michael Lappin, DVM, PhD, an internal medicine veterinarian and professor at CSU, in a statement. “However, in recent months, cases are being diagnosed more frequently and the course of disease is different than usual, surprising both pet owners and veterinary health care providers. It is currently unknown whether these unusual cases are caused by a virus or a bacterium, or a combination of both types of infection.”