Mysterious respiratory disease affects dogs in several states

Labs in at least four states are investigating a mysterious respiratory disease in dogs that has similar symptoms to kennel cough, but it can last much longer and in some cases prove fatal, according to veterinarians.

The infected dogs develop cough, fever, lethargy and periodic loss of appetite. Vets said the unspecified disease has led to hospitalizations and deaths in older dogs or those with health problems.

Although there is no official tally of the number of infections, vets said they have treated several dogs with these symptoms in the past few months. Cases have been reported in at least four states: Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, but experts suspect the disease is much more widespread.

Dr. Lindsey Ganzer, a veterinarian and executive director of the North Springs Veterinary Referral Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., said she has treated about 35 dogs with the disease since late October.

Four dogs had to be euthanized or died. She said she has treated infected dogs of a variety of breeds and ages. Some only had coughs and others had pneumonia, she said.

However, there was one thing in common 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 vets could 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 by getting the word out there, people are less likely to do it,” she said. “The veterinary community as a whole is a little scared.”

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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 doesn’t want people to panic because that number represents a small number of all dogs in the state.

“We’re not seeing an increase in respiratory disease beyond the common expectation for pets that would get respiratory disease,” he said. He added that there are many respiratory diseases that can be treated.

Dogs with kennel cough, for example, may show similar symptoms, such as coughing, lack of appetite, fever and lethargy, which usually resolve within one to three weeks. Owners should not be concerned if their dogs show symptoms of this new disease, but they should be proactive.

“We’ve all been through Covid,” he said. “I would say if your dog shows signs of respiratory illness, isolate them at home, call your vet, get them seen.”

Typically, dogs can recover from a respiratory illness on their own or with the help of antibiotics, but that’s 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, it either lingered for a long time or took a downward spiral and led to very serious outcomes, including death,” he said.

Experts are unsure whether the disease is caused by a bacterium or a virus. Some vets in Oregon assume it may be viral because the dogs they have treated have not responded to antibiotics.

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“I’m open to the fact that it is, and I’m open to the fact that it’s something we don’t even think about,” said Dr. Williams.

Dr. David Needle, senior veterinary pathologist at the University of New Hampshire’s New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, has been researching the disease for about a year.

Dr. Needle and his colleagues at the university’s Hubbard Center for Genome Research hope to gain clarity after running tests to determine whether the organisms that cause the disease, based on samples from across the country, share the same genetic makeup.

“Something significant is happening,” he said. “Whether it’s the same or not remains to be seen.”