- A mystery dog illness is spreading across the country.
- Dogs are developing serious symptoms, including respiratory distress, and the condition isn’t responding to usual treatments.
- Veterinarians recommend prevention methods to protect your dog.
A mystery dog illness continues to spread across the country, leaving a growing number of dog owners concerned. The illness, which does not currently have a name, is raising a lot of questions among veterinarian agencies, with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) noting that its cause “remains a mystery,” despite hundreds of dogs contracting it. Though it doesn’t have an official name, there are a number of symptoms to be aware of, (like respiratory distress) and ways to prevent serious illness in your pup.
According to reports, the illness doesn’t respond well to usual treatments, making it even more concerning. “We’re letting people know that it’s something to be on the lookout for,” says Brian Collins, D.V.M., an extension veterinarian for the Cornell Margaret and Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center.
Meet the experts: Brian Collins, D.V.M., an extension veterinarian for the Cornell Margaret and Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center; Colleen Lambo, D.V.M., of The Vets; Victoria Hopson, D.V.M., an associate veterinarian at The Vets of Raleigh; Jeanette O’Quin, D.V.M., associate professor-clinical in the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University.
So, what is the mystery dog illness and how can you protect your dog? Here’s what we know right now.
Table of Contents
What are the symptoms of the mystery dog illness?
According to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), which was one of the first organizations to flag the illness, symptoms may include:
- Chronic cough
- Discharge from eye and/or nose
- Chronic pneumonia that doesn’t respond to antibiotics
- Acute pneumonia that quickly becomes severe and may lead to “poor outcomes” in as little as 24 to 36 hours
Dogs with this illness may not be eating and drinking well, according to Collins. While Collins says that dogs can develop coughs, the cough from this illness “persists longer than normal,” meaning it lasts for weeks.
The illness is “resistant to standard treatments” and doesn’t cause a positive test for common respiratory illnesses in dogs, according to the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
“It’s likely a bacteria, it seems, but it’s not responding to antibiotics,” says Colleen Lambo, D.V.M., of The Vets.
How does the mystery dog illness spread?
It’s not entirely known how the mystery dog illness spreads. “We don’t know what the cause is but we’re thinking about it the way we do other forms of canine respiratory disease,” Collins says. “Those are all spread dog to dog.”
That can include dogs licking each other, playing together, breathing next to each other, and coughing and sneezing on each other, he says. Inanimate objects like a shared water or food bowl may spread the illness, too, Collins says. Even humans may spread the illness by petting an infected dog and then another canine, he says.
Where has the mystery dog illness been spotted?
Cases were first detected in Oregon, which has had more than 200 case reports, the AVMA says. However, other potential cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Georgia, and Florida, among other places.
But Collins notes that it’s difficult to say if these are the same illness or different conditions. “Since we don’t really know what the cause of this is, we can’t necessarily say that all of the outbreaks around the country are from the same organism,” he says.
How can I prevent my dog from getting sick?
The OVMA recommends doing the following to protect your dog from respiratory illnesses in general:
- Reduce your dog’s contact with large numbers of dogs you don’t know
- Try to keep your dog away from dogs that look sick (i.e. they have a cough, runny nose, and runny eyes)
- Avoid communal water bowls
- Make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations, including canine influenza, Bordetella, and parainfluenza
“Avoid doggy daycare, boarding,—if possible—and dog parks,” says Victoria Hopson, D.V.M., an associate veterinarian at The Vets of Raleigh.
If you suspect that your dog is sick, Hopson also recommends calling a mobile vet, if possible, to lower the risk that you’ll spread illness at your local veterinarian’s office. (You can also call your regular vet’s office to ask about the next steps and if they want you to bring your dog into the clinic.)
Can the mystery dog illness spread to humans?
That’s also not clear at this time. “We don’t know what it is,” Collins says. “We can’t say definitively one way or the other if it infects people.”
“So far no human cases have been reported associated with sick dogs believed to be part of this outbreak,” says Jeanette O’Quin, D.V.M., associate professor-clinical in the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University. “The overwhelming majority of canine infectious agents are not transmissible to people.”
If your dog appears to be sick, Collins recommends calling your vet. They can advise you on the next steps from there.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.