Dogs Across the U.S. Are Falling Ill With a Mysterious, Potentially Fatal Disease

Veterinarians and government agencies are urging pet owners to take precautionary measures to keep their dogs safe.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Scientists across the U.S. are investigating an unusual respiratory illness that has been plaguing dogs in recent months. Now, veterinarians and government agencies are urging pet owners to take precautionary measures to keep their dogs safe.

The ailment can cause coughing, sneezing, fever, lethargy, and intermittent loss of appetite. Typically, these symptoms can be treated with antibiotics; however, this atypical illness has been mostly or entirely unresponsive to them, thus leading to serious outcomes, and, in some cases, death.

In some situations, the dog’s pneumonia progressed rather quickly, leading to severe sickness within as little as 24 to 36 hours. That being said, officials encourage dog owners to contact their veterinarian immediately after the onset of the aforementioned symptoms.

“Unfortunately, right now, nobody knows what it is,” veterinarian Mike Hutchinson told CBS News Pittsburgh.

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of infections or deaths that this illness has caused, since it’s yet to be comprehensively defined, its cause is unknown, and there’s no way to test for it. However, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has documented more than 200 instances of the disease since mid-August. Oregon, Rhode Island, Colorado, and New Hampshire are all believed to have had cases, though the number of impacted states, in reality, may be significantly higher.

“All of us have gone through Covid,” said Stephen Kochis, chief medical officer for the Oregon Humane Society. “I would say if your dog is showing signs of respiratory disease, isolate them in the home, call your vet, get them seen.”

Lindsey Ganzer, a veterinarian and chief executive at North Springs Veterinary Referral Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has treated around 35 dogs with the illness since late October. She noticed one commonality among the infected: They spent time surrounded by a large quantity of other dogs, such as at doggy daycares or dog parks. Now, she worries that with the holidays approaching, there may be a surge in the number of cases as more pet owners send their dogs to boarding facilities.

“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.”

But Kurt Williams, director of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University, has two words for the public: “Don’t panic.” His advice is to make sure all dogs are up-to-date on their vaccinations, some of which will help protect against respiratory illness. Plus, there are a number of easily treatable respiratory diseases, such as kennel cough, that have similar symptoms to this mystery illness, so owners shouldn’t necessarily be anxious if their dogs do start exhibiting symptoms.

For more information on this disease, contact your local vet or follow the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association.