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Advice from a vet on the mysterious dog respiratory illness that’s going around the country

A woman and her dog walk along Lady Bird Lake in Austin earlier this year. Vets recommend keeping your dog away from other dogs if possible as a mysterious respiratory illness continues to spread.
Renee Dominguez
A woman and her dog walk along Lady Bird Lake in Austin earlier this year. Vets recommend keeping your dog away from other dogs if possible as a mysterious respiratory illness continues to spread.

A mysterious respiratory illness has been making dogs sick in multiple states across the country, and it’s continuing to spread.

A map shows hotspots in places like New Hampshire, Colorado and Oregon. So far, there are no reports in Texas – but veterinarians here are closely monitoring developments and trying to determine what causes the disease and the best methods for treating it.

Lori Teller, a clinical professor at the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M University, said it’s hard to determine whether a sick dog has this illness or another respiratory illness.

“Unfortunately, there are no symptoms specific to this mysterious illness,” she said. “They are very general to respiratory infections in general. So coughing, sneezing, discharge from the nose, watery eyes, decreased appetite, and in general, not feeling well. And certainly the more severe or serious they seem to be, then you should certainly reach out to your veterinarian.”

Teller said to consult a veterinarian if your dog’s symptoms seem more severe.

“If your dog has a mild cough, a little bit of sniffling and sneezing, but is otherwise active and eating okay, then the illness just needs to run its course,” she said. “But certainly if your dog’s appetite is off, if it’s having a hard time breathing, maybe the gums are turning blue or white, or really seems miserable, then you definitely need to be in contact with your veterinarian.”

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Vets think this illness is a virus but are not exactly sure of the specific cause, Teller said. But there are steps dog owners can take to protect their pets.

“So first, make sure your dog is vaccinated against the respiratory infections that we can prevent, because we certainly don’t want to exacerbate anything,” she said. “And then if your dog does not need to be around other dogs, such as the dog park or doggie day care or things like that, then this may be a good time to avoid those outings.

“But it is the holiday season, and some people are traveling, so you may have to take your dog to doggie day care or to board in a local kennel. So talk to those facilities about what they are doing to try to contain or prevent the infection while your dog is there.”

And while the illness has not yet been reported in Texas, respiratory infections are being seen here.

“We just don’t know if it’s related to the mysterious illness that seems to be around or if it’s more run-of-the-mill infections that we tend to get,” Teller said. “Respiratory infections are not reportable in dogs. So there’s no really great way to track what an individual infection is unless an owner wants to pursue the specific diagnostics.”

Teller said her message to dog owners is: Be cautious, but don’t freak out.

“It is the time of year when respiratory diseases tend to spread, and the vast majority of dogs that contract this illness will go on to recover and be just fine,” she said. “If you have a dog that’s at higher risk – say it already has an underlying respiratory disease like asthma or has congestive heart failure – or maybe it’s a dog like a frenchie or a pug, something that has the smushed-in face, those dogs tend to have compromised respiratory systems. So take a little more caution with those. But otherwise, go about, celebrate your holiday, and just be cautious and aware.”

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