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The Mystery Pet Respiratory Disease: What Every Ruidoso, NM Dog Owners Needs To Know

December 15, 2023

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may have seen stories and reports about a mysterious new illness that’s affecting our canine companions. Official warnings have been issued by several groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and both Colorado and Oregon’s departments of agriculture. This is definitely something for New Mexico’s pet owners to be aware of. A local Ruidoso, NM veterinarian offers some information on this issue below.

What Is The Mystery Canine Illness?

The illness is quite similar to kennel cough, and may be referred to as such. Kennel cough isn’t a single disease: the term is often used as an umbrella term to describe several different respiratory illnesses. 

The biggest distinction between kennel cough and the new mystery illness isn’t exactly a good one. Kennel cough usually responds to treatment. However, the standard treatments don’t do much for the new one.

The severity of the illness is another thing that concerns us. Infected pets also often get very sick very fast. Although many pooches recover with proper treatment, others have deteriorated. Some dogs required surgical removal of infected tissue, while others were put on ventilators. Other pooches develop long-term cases or secondary infections. Several dogs have died, with some succumbing very quickly. Ask your Ruidoso, NM veterinary clinic for more information. 

Where Are The Mysterious Dog Respiratory Illness Outbreaks Happening?

Outbreaks—or suspected outbreaks— have been reported in several states. The official list includes California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Oregon alone has had over 200 cases, going back to the beginning of August. However, there are likely other pockets of infection throughout the country. 

What Causes The Canine Respiratory Illness?

That’s the big question. The illness hasn’t been positively identified yet, so at this time we’re not sure if it’s an entirely new disease, or a newly-mutated strain of something familiar. (It’s also possible, though unlikely, that the outbreaks are not all being caused by the same thing.)

That said, researchers are closing in on a potential culprit. Scientists from the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnosis Laboratory and the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies recently identified a pathogen. This information was based on the results of genetic samplings of about 70 dogs. About 30 of the pups were New Hampshire pooches that were infected last year. The rest of the subjects were from Massachusetts or Rhode Island, and got sick this year.

As to the pathogen itself? It doesn’t have an official name, but has been called a “funky bacterium” and seems to be adept at avoiding and defeating Fido’s natural immune system.  So far, it does not appear to be able to survive for very long outside a host, though more research is needed on that as well.

What Are The Signs Of The Mysterious Dog Illness?

One of the best things you can do for Fido is to watch for signs. These include coughing, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, and nasal discharge. 

Coughing, as one may expect, is the most common sign. That cough may start mildly, and then accelerate. It sometimes can linger for weeks and/or worsen into pneumonia.

Rapid, labored breathing is another red flag to be aware of. Lethargy is also pretty high on the list. Fido may seem extremely tired, and may spend his time snoozing in his bed instead of playing or cuddling. Some of the other warning signs to watch for  include discharge from the eyes or nose; fever; wheezing; loss of appetite; weight loss; and dehydration.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your furry friend, contact your veterinary clinic immediately. 

How Is Mystery Illness Diagnosed?

There is no definitive test yet. However, the dogs that were diagnosed with the mystery canine respiratory illness tested negative for other respiratory illnesses. They also often struggle to get over the infection. For instance, canine coughs usually only last about a week or so. This one is much more stubborn, and sometimes just won’t go away.

Can I Catch The Mysterious Dog Disease?

Good news here: Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations suggests that the risk of human contagion is extremely low. People with other pets can also breathe a sigh of relief: the illness does not appear to be sickening other animals. 

We would still recommend washing your hands thoroughly after petting or handling your furry friend, to help reduce the spread of associated germs.

How Do I Protect My Canine Buddy From The Mystery Illness?

Until the culprit has been officially identified and a vaccine developed, we won’t have a foolproof way to protect Man’s Best Buddy from the respiratory disease. But fortunately, there are things you can do to lower Fido’s risk of contagion.

First and foremost, make sure that FIdo is current on key vaccines. While the Bordetella vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, it’s always strongly recommended (and usually required) for pets that are going to be in close contact with other pups, whether at daycare, boarding kennels, groomers’, parks, or even doggy playdates. Ask your Ruidoso, NM veterinarian for more information.

To protect your beloved furry pal, keep an eye out for symptoms, and contact your veterinary clinic right away if you notice any. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better!

It’s also important to note that some of our canine buddies are more at risk than others. Dogs with compromised immune systems and/or known respiratory issues are most at risk. Young unvaccinated puppies are also in danger, as are brachycephalic pooches, such as pugs and French Bulldogs. 

How Widespread Is The Mystery Canine Illness?

Cases have been reported in at least 16 states, with several more suspected cases in other areas. Unfortunately, several pets have succumbed to the disease. 

Keep in mind that most states are not formally tracking the canine mystery disease outbreak, so there is no official record. Additionally, many of the cases have been reported based on symptoms. That is one reason tracking the outbreak can get tricky. Several other respiratory issues, such as Bordetella and canine parainfluenza, cause similar symptoms. In fact, canine respiratory issues are sometimes grouped under the umbrella term ‘kennel cough’, which includes both viral and bacterial diseases.

There may also be some false negatives. This is not unusual when testing for specific pathogens. There is sometimes a window between the time when a pup becomes contagious and when symptoms become severe enough for that pet to require veterinary care. In other words, pooches can spread the disease before it affects them.

How Is The Mystery Canine Respiratory Illness Spread?

The culprit here seems to be close contact. As with many other respiratory diseases, pets often get sick after breathing the same air as infected pooches and/or sharing bowls, toys, and dishes. (Fido’s habit of greeting his buddies by sniffing their noses may also come into play here.)  

As one may expect, the risk of infection increases if there are many pups gathered. Some of the potential hotspots for infection include kennels, groomers’ salons, dog parks, and doggy daycares. However, an encounter with a single infected pooch is really all it takes. 

You don’t necessarily need to quarantine your canine companion, though your veterinarian may recommend this if Fido is high risk. Just take some precautions. If you’re planning to board or travel with your furry friend, find out if any of the dogs at his destinations have been afflicted. If you’re using a kennel or groomer this month, talk to them about it. If they don’t seem to be taking the issue seriously, you may want to rethink things. Ask your Ruidoso, NM animal clinic for specific advice.Do you have questions about your pet’s health or care? Contact us, your local Ruidoso, NM pet hospital, anytime!