How to Protect Your Dog from the “Mysterious” Respiratory Disease

As an unidentified canine respiratory disease continues to appear in clusters in the United States, causing symptoms such as cough, fever and lethargy and, in more severe cases, hospitalization or death, many dog ​​owners are wondering what steps they should take to keep their your pets. sure.

Despite alarming headlines about deaths, veterinarians are urging pet owners to be careful but not panic.

“At this point, I don’t think there’s cause for extreme alarm,” said Dr. Deborah Silverstein, a professor of small animal emergency and critical care medicine at Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think it’s a time to be cautious and stay informed.”

We spoke with Dr. Silverstein and other experts about the strategies they recommend (and, in some cases, use in their own homes) to protect dogs’ health.

Although it is unclear whether the “mystery illness” is a new pathogen or the resurgence of a known bacterial or viral infection, dog owners should make sure their pets are up to date on their vaccinations, Dr. Silverstein said.

Keep in mind that some dogs are at higher risk for more serious complications if they get sick.

“The animals we’re really worried about getting serious infections are those that don’t have a good immune system,” Dr. Silverstein said. “So they would be very young animals, especially if they haven’t received a full series of vaccines, or very old animals, because they are more likely to have comorbidities or other diseases that can weaken their immune system.”

Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, such as pugs and French and English bulldogs, also tend to have a harder time clearing respiratory tract infections, Dr. Silverstein said.

The safest way to keep dogs safe is to isolate them from other dogs, said Dr Renee McDougall, specialist surgeon at Bond Vet. She and her husband have a five-year-old pit bull mix, Rupert, who she loves to walk and sniff other dogs. But for the past three weeks, she said, the couple has prevented her from participating in any “nose-to-nose greetings.”

“My dog ​​is so sad!” Dr. McDougall admitted.

“We know that this disease typically spreads through droplets and face-to-face interactions,” he said. “So if we just avoid those scenarios, we’ll probably be as safe as possible.”

But if you rely on doggy daycare while you’re at work, for example, or if you intend to board your dog on vacation, certain measures can help mitigate risks in group settings.

Ask about the facility’s vaccine requirements and its screening policies, the two experts said.

“Make sure they follow strict guidelines with dogs allowed in the building,” Dr. Silverstein said. “If they show up and cough or sneeze, they should not be allowed in.” Although he warned that dogs are likely to shed the virus before showing any symptoms.

Dr. McDougall recommended asking about the size of the group your dog will spend time in. Is it, say, 30 dogs running together? Will there be different dogs present each day? Smaller, more consistent groups are better, he said. And ideally, dogs should not share toys or water bowls.

“You are the dog’s parent,” Dr. McDougall said, acknowledging that many owners rely on outside facilities to care for their puppies. “You decide how much risk you are willing to take.”

Dog parks are already somewhat controversial, Dr. Silverstein said, although she knows how beloved they can be.

But at this time, he said it was “safer to stay away from other dogs whose health and vaccination status is unknown,” unless you are sure there is “very low incidence of disease” in your area. (Cases have been reported in several states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, but the number is increasing and the disease is most likely more widespread, experts say.) Some communities have temporarily closed dog parks.

Alternatively, Dr. Silverstein said dog owners could consider having a “play date” with another dog whose health status and vaccinations they know, although there is no guarantee of safety.

The veterinarians we spoke to emphasized that pet owners should talk to their veterinarians if they have questions about whether there have been cases locally or if they need help weighing the risks for their pet.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice your dog coughing or experiencing nasal or eye discharge, Dr. Silverstein said. If your pet is eating and acting normally, your veterinarian may recommend monitoring your pet at home for 24 to 48 hours or you can schedule a telehealth visit, Dr. McDougall said.

Dogs that appear lethargic or have difficulty breathing need immediate attention.

Dr. Silverstein and Dr. McDougall said veterinary offices were taking care to avoid exposure among patients and acknowledged that many animal clinics and hospitals were supportedso finding care may be easier said than done.