New cases don’t respond to standard treatments and some can progress to pneumonia.

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Veterinarians, including those in Florida, are reporting an increased number of dogs suffering from a potentially deadly and contagious respiratory illness.

The infections are not responding to commonly prescribed antibiotics, according to the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine.

What isn't clear so far is whether the disease is caused by something new or from Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, known commonly as “kennel cough.” 

The mysterious illness began in Oregon during the summer and now has been reported in 14 states, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What states have seen cases of the mysterious respiratory dog disease?

As of Monday, the illness had been reported in the following states:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

No central reporting system exists to confirm spike in respiratory cases

"The lack of a centralized reporting system means it’s not even possible to confirm that there is a spike in CIRDC — Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex — incidence or severity," UF reported.

"The intense media coverage of a 'mystery disease' may be raising awareness and discussion about CIRDC cases that would otherwise be managed as usual. It’s also possible that localized clusters are occurring due to one or more known pathogens due to some predisposing factor, such as an asymptomatically infected dog visiting a dog park, day care, dog show, or boarding kennel, etc."

Kennel cough in dogs is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs, according to the American Kennel Club.

Is this a new pathogen that’s affecting dogs?

Researchers are looking into the possibility of emerging or increasingly virulent pathogens, UF said.

Many of the cases suspected to have “atypical CIRDC” have not been confirmed with diagnostic testing.

While some dogs were tested, that was done weeks later, which is "too late to detect some of the most likely culprits, such as influenza virus, pneumovirus, and respiratory coronavirus."

Adding to the difficulties in detecting the culprit, many tests were done at a large diagnostic lab that does not include pneumovirus, UF said.

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Symptoms of mystery respiratory dog disease:

According to the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine, symptoms of the mystery respiratory illness in dogs include:

  • Acute cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, eye discharge, fever, anorexia, lethargy.
  • Severe cases can progress to life-threatening pneumonia requiring oxygen and ventilator support.
  • Cough may persist for weeks to months.

The American Association of Veterinary Medicine added these symptoms:

  • Chronic mild to moderate inflammation of the trachea lasting six to eight weeks or longer, which is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics.
  • Chronic pneumonia that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics.
  • Acute pneumonia that rapidly becomes severe and often leads to poor outcomes in as little as 24 to 36 hours
  • Difficulty or rapid breathing, wheezing, dehydration, fever, nasal or eye discharge, weight loss, loss of appetite and lethargy.

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The disease is highly contagious and spreads rapidly among dogs in contact with other dogs.

  • Dogs that visit with other dogs, such as boarding, day care, dog shows, dog parks
  • So far, animal shelters seem to be less frequently affected by unknown pathogens, although historic levels of crowding present risks for outbreaks
  • People and other species have not been reported to be at risk

Treatments of mysterious dog illness

Unlike more common infections associated with kennel cough, new cases do not respond to "standard medical therapy and can have a prolonged illness that can progress to pneumonia," according to the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine.

Currently the treatment that dogs receive is symptomatic and supportiveDr. Marta Vidal-Abarca, with Petkeen.com told USA TODAY.

"This means that, since the agent causing the infection has not been identified, the treatment is not aimed at killing any pathogen in particular," Vidal-Abarca said.

"Instead, the treatment is aimed at mitigating clinical signs and facilitating the dog’s recovery."

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Treatment, Vidal-Abarca said, includes:

  • Oxygen therapy.
  • Use of a nebulizer to get medicine into the dog's lungs.
  • Antibiotics to treat secondary infection.
  • Measures to ensure the dog has "adequate nutrition" and hydration, including IVs.

How can you best protect your dog from the mystery respiratory illness?

Although researchers are not yet sure what causes the illness, here are tips from the AVMA and others to help keep your pet as safe as possible:

  • Make sure your dog has been fully vaccinated, especially for kennel cough.
  • Avoid dog parks, pet stores and grooming facilities.
  • Be mindful of boarding, unless absolutely necessary.
  • If your dog shows any signs of respiratory issues, contact your vet and keep your pet isolated.

Canine influenza virus affecting dogs in Florida

H3N2 is circulating along the eastern and western coasts as documented in show dogs and shelters, UF said.

H3N2 is an influenza A virus that is specific for dogs. The virus is currently circulating in dogs in different communities in the country, including Florida and Georgia. Most dogs have no immunity to this virus and will be infected upon exposure. The virus can also infect cats. There is no evidence it infects people.

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