Mysterious disease affecting dogs has owner worried

Dear Dr. John,

I am getting worried about news reports about a respiratory disease that is spreading and even causing death in some dogs. Can you shed any light on what you might think the cause is and what kinds of things I should do to protect my dog? My dog is current on all her vaccines. What kinds of things should I be looking for, that could possibly suggest that she has contracted this weird disease and if she shows any signs what should I do? My veterinarian has cautioned me to just watch for any signs of coughing and to bring my dog in if anything seems unusual. C.W.

Dear C.W.,

Your concern is justified as this unusual respiratory disease afflicting dogs across the country in at least a dozen states has not yet been fully identified. Some sources report, and I think it is more likely, that the causative agent is of a viral etiology since antibiotics do not seem to be effective in treating the illness. Perhaps it is caused by a mutation from an already existing viral disease yet none of the more common respiratory viruses that infect dogs have been linked to this mystery and it is puzzling. However, the latest news that I have seen is that the cause might be a bacterium that has evolved from dogs’ normal bacterial flora that can then easily get into respiratory tissue and be difficult to address and eradicate by the immune system.

The best thing you can do for your dog is what you have done in keeping her fully and currently vaccinated. Additionally, you might want to limit her exposure to other dogs, especially to large populations of dogs such as in a boarding facility which may be heavily populated during the holiday season. The clinical signs to watch for are not unlike any other respiratory illness including a persistent cough, sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge, and lethargy. The worst cases have been known to progress to pneumonia. If you or any dog owner observes these signs, contacting your veterinarian immediately and isolating your dog from other dogs is essential, as your veterinarian has wisely advised you.

Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.

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