Ask Dr. B

Dr. B do we need to be concerned about this new respiratory disease in dogs?

Two dogs playing together with a toy in a green meadow.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of media attention surrounding a new and undiagnosed respiratory disease in dogs. Many folks have reached out wondering if they should be worried for their pet’s health, and what they can do to prevent their dog from falling ill. I am not yet convinced there is an epidemic and this may be a false alarm, but the situation is developing.

Here is what we know:
– Throughout the country (12 states so far) there have been reports from veterinarians of a new respiratory disease. We have been seeing a larger than normal number of dogs contracting pneumonia that does not respond to typical antibiotic treatment. I, personally, have seen a handful of cases that meet this description over the past year.
– Many of these dogs have a cough that lasts for up to 6-8 weeks. The vast majority of the dogs I have treated have survived, but some dogs (unfortunately even those that are young) have rapidly worsened and the disease was fatal.

Here is what we don’t know:
– We do not know for sure if all of these cases are related. We may just be seeing an uptick in normal respiratory disease in dogs that is getting media attention.
– We do not know the organism (bacteria, virus, etc.) that is responsible for this illness, so we cannot yet understand how it is transmitted or treated. Many veterinarians (including myself) have run diagnostic tests for all of the normal bacteria and viruses and all have come up negative.
– The dogs at highest risk are those that visit with other dogs, such as boarding, day care, dog shows, and dog parks.

What about humans and other species:
– We do not know if humans or other animals can contract this disease. However, the risk of people getting sick from dogs with canine infectious respiratory disease is overall quite low. Since we do not know the infectious organism here, it is best to be safe and practice good hand hygiene.
– At this time, we have not seen increased respiratory disease in cats or any other veterinary species.

What you can do:
– Monitor your dog closely for progressive coughing and alert your veterinarian right away. This is especially important if you notice ocular or nasal discharge, your dog loses its appetite, has trouble breathing, or is extremely lethargic.
– Keep your dog’s vaccinations updated. Even though we do not have a vaccine that targets this specific illness, maintaining your dog’s health with routine vaccinations helps support the immune system. To optimally protect against common respiratory infections make sure your dog is vaccinated for Bordetella, Adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, and (possibly) influenza. If you are unsure if your dog is vaccinated for these diseases, reach out to your veterinarian.
– Keep your dog away from sick dogs, and if your dog is sick isolate it.

My two cents:
– I strongly suspect this is due to a novel virus. Now that it is getting national attention, I hope that we will soon isolate the cause.
– I am not sure why this is now getting media attention as it has been going on for over a year. The new media attention has caused a bit of a panic among pet owners, but I would not be too worried at this time. Over the last year I have personally seen less than five cases and only one fatal case.
– Please be mindful of where you are getting your information and always reach out to your veterinarian before trying any suggested preventative measures or remedies.

I will be keeping my eye out for additional information as this progresses. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.

For reliable information:
Worms & Germs Blog