Researchers across multiple states in the United States are working to determine the cause of a deadly respiratory disease affecting dogs. The Oregon Department of Agriculture referred to the illness as an “atypical canine infectious respiratory disease” in a news release on November 9. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, sneezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, and lethargy. Since mid-August, veterinarians in Oregon have reported over 200 cases of the illness, with additional cases reported in Colorado, Illinois, and New Hampshire.
Dr. Ryan Scholz, the Oregon State Veterinarian, stated that the reported cases seem to have a viral cause, but traditional respiratory diagnostic tests have largely been negative. According to Dr. David B. Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the disease displays similar signs to upper respiratory diseases but does not test positive for common respiratory diseases. Additionally, the disease is resistant to standard treatments. Needle suggests that fatalities are not a significant part of the disease, but some animals may develop acute and potentially fatal pneumonia as a secondary infection.
Researchers, including Dr. Needle, are actively working to identify the disease and find common DNA segments by collecting samples from local veterinary clinics and comparing the results. If the pathogen is identified, it is likely a host-adapted bacteria that has a long history of colonizing dogs. An evolutionary event, such as a spontaneous mutation or acquisition of a gene from another source, may have caused the bacteria to become virulent.
The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has also reported cases of a similar canine disease. Kevin Snekvik, the laboratory’s director and a professor at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, noted an increase in dogs with respiratory disease, including symptoms like coughing, lethargy, and fever. While the Washington lab has not reported any deaths related to the disease, labs in other states have reported a few fatalities.
Dog owners are advised to exercise caution rather than worry. The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association recommends keeping dogs up-to-date on vaccinations for canine influenza, Bordetella, and parainfluenza to help maintain their health. Tips for reducing the risk of infection include reducing contact with large numbers of unknown dogs, avoiding sick dogs, keeping sick dogs at home and seeking veterinary care, and avoiding communal water bowls shared by multiple dogs.