The Race to Find What’s Making America’s Dogs Sick

Dog owners are also exchanging advice on the best disinfection products for facilities and sharing what it’s like caring for dogs sick with this suspected syndrome, as well as first-hand accounts of what treatments have and haven’t worked. The idea is that owners of newly infected dogs can pass this information along to their veterinary treatment teams. This informal citizen reporting shows possible cases in over 21 states, although these diagnoses have not been verified by researchers.

Needle encourages dog owners to be patient as a search for the cause of this illness continues. Any kind of vaccine is a long way off, but he hopes this research will help veterinarians in impacted areas better understand how to treat sick dogs—and perhaps even change their treatment approaches.

“The thing we think it might be would not be sensitive to some antibiotics,” he explains, as certain antibiotics only work on bacteria with a particular cell structure. If the researchers can nail down whether it is a bacteria, and exactly what type they are dealing with, they’ll be closer to knowing which medications will be most effective—by eliminating those that definitely won’t work.

Progress is likely to be slow. Compared to research funding for high-priority human respiratory diseases, like Covid-19 or the flu, funding for veterinary research is minimal. Cantu-Schomus adds that this outbreak also highlights the importance of funding state veterinarian offices and diagnostic labs. “While there is no evidence that this disease is affecting any species other than dogs, nearly two-thirds of new or emerging human diseases originate from animals, he explains. “A robust veterinary infrastructure not only protects the health of our animals, but also human public health.”

It’s important to remember that the number of dogs currently known to have been sick is a small percentage of the overall dog population. In addition to watching for signs of infection, which include nasal and/or eye discharge, coughing, and sneezing, dog owners should make sure their dogs are up to date on all vaccines recommended by their veterinarian. These include vaccines for bordetella, canine influenza, and parainfluenza.

Dog owners may also want to consider avoiding large crowds of dogs in places such as dog parks, dog daycares, training classes, and dog shows if they live in an area with reported cases. At the moment, however, there is no official tracker of where the disease appears to be present—only data on the Facebook group or advice from your local veterinarian.

Have a sick dog at home? Needle also notes that if your veterinarian is seeing an uptick in unidentified respiratory disease (suggesting you’re part of an outbreak), you can contact the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Because the lab is still in the early stages of researching this condition, the more samples they have access to, the better—Needle and his team can get your vet set up to submit samples from impacted dogs if needed.

Caution, not fear, is what’s recommended, Needle says. “Use basic public health practices with your dog” and keep an eye on veterinary news for updates—which hopefully should be forthcoming. “We are a month away from knowing so much more,” he predicts.

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