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Mysterious dog respiratory illness: 7 questions answered by a veterinarian

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Posted at 7:26 AM, Dec 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-15 12:23:46-05

While cases of the mystery respiratory dog illness continue to be reported, veterinarian, Dr. Matthew Wheaton with Alicia Pet Care Center has advice for dog owners on edge.

1.) What are the main symptoms we need to watch for?

"Coughing is gonna be the primary one, but we do have nasal discharge associated with this illness as well. And then one of the bigger problems with this is that we see a much higher ratio of our cases turning into pneumonia cases. So those dogs will be quite sick. Most of the time they'll run a fever, they could have difficulty breathing. And there is a small segment of the disease population that will have rapidly progressing pneumonia and can actually lead to deaths."

2.) While on a walk, is it safe for dogs to greet other dogs?

"We wanna probably try to avoid having contact with unknown dogs that have an unknown health status when you're out on a walk."

3.) What places do we need to avoid?

"So most of our cases are coming out of high-risk scenarios and those will be indoor facilities mostly with a lot of dogs. So the biggest risks are gonna be boarding facilities, doggy daycare, groomers. Those would be the primary ones."

"And then obviously dog parks is going to provide a high-risk scenario, not only because there's lots of dogs there that you may not know, but also the water dish that's typically a shared water dish."

4.) Should we still take our dogs to the vet?

"You definitely want to continue to do normal vet care. People don't go to the vet just for fun. So I think. most of the time it's not really a real salient issue. I think if we are saying, you know, should I delay my wellness treatment? Should I avoid going in for a dental cleaning? Those are semi-optional things. I don't think we're at that stage. We're seeing, you know, we have a problem here in Southern California right now. We see one to two dogs per day at our relatively large hospital. All of those dogs are coming in, you know, kind of a separate entrance going into a separate, you know, designated exam room that's thoroughly cleaned afterwards. If they are staying here for longer than their visit, they have to be hospitalized for instance, or they're waiting for x-rays or something like that, they're being housed in an isolation ward that has a completely separate airflow. So most every veteran in hospital is gonna have that scenario going on and good methods to minimize hospital spread."

6.) If you live in a state that doesn't have any reports of this illness, should you be less concerned?

"I think worry is probably something that we should all try to minimize as much as possible, but I think being prepared for it to come to your state is definitely valid because it's very likely to end up there. This is not showing any signs of being a short-term, regional problem like we have with canine influenza. This looks like it's potentially gonna be one of these things that's gonna be around for a while, if not forever, as one of our new organisms associated with this canine infectious respiratory disease complex. It's probably a matter of time before it works its way across the country. I think being alert and potentially having a conversation with your veterinarian if you are wanting to reach out and get some idea of what's going on because it may be difficult to know what's happening in individual practices, but your veterinarians will probably have an idea of what's going on in the place that you live."

7.) Is it safe to travel with our dogs this holiday season?

"Traveling, I think is fine. And I think my overall position is let's not lose our minds about this. This is not an illness that has a very, very high mortality rate. We are not seeing massive numbers of dogs. So it's generally frustrating and scary more than anything else. One of the biggest problems about this is that the illness is tending to last for two to three months of coughing. So that's not great, but at the end of the day, it doesn't necessarily mean that we should completely lock down."