How has ‘mysterious’ dog respiratory illness impacted NC pets? What owners need to know

Veterinarians in multiple states across the US have for months chronicled cases of a mysterious illness in dogs, one which brings on a lasting respiratory disease and pneumonia that shows little to no response to antibiotics, the Associated Press previously reported.

It’s still unclear what exactly is causing the infection, but the American Veterinary Medical Association says it is under investigation.

Now, veterinarians and shelters across North Carolina are closely monitoring for any signs of the respiratory illness in dogs, especially since officials are still trying to pinpoint what’s causing dogs to get sick.

“I think what makes this really difficult is dogs, just like people, will have a lot of upper respiratory illnesses, just like normally,” Maria Ross-Estrada, assistant clinical professor of small animal primary care at North Carolina State University, told The Charlotte Observer. “So it’s hard to tell if what’s going on right now is some kind of outbreak that’s caused by a new bacterial virus (or) if this is something caused by our usual suspects.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association has released guidance for dog owners to follow until more is known.

“Owners should monitor their dogs closely for progressive coughing that may be accompanied by signs of ocular or nasal discharges and sneezing,” Rena Carlson, president of AVMA said. “Please consult your veterinarian immediately if these clinical signs develop, particularly if your dog concurrently loses its appetite, has trouble breathing, is coughing continually, or is extremely lethargic.”

Has the respiratory illness spread to NC dogs?

According to some local vets, it’s unclear how many dogs in the state, if any, have gotten sick from this particular illness.

“This is difficult to answer since the pathogen (virus, bacteria, etc) that causes it has not yet been defined. Currently, local veterinary clinics, including Truss Vet, are seeing a substantial uptick in respiratory disease,” Truss Vets in Cary recently said in an online update about the respiratory illness.

Vets say it’s common to see an increase in canine respiratory diseases around the holidays, but owners should still be mindful.

“The increased frequency should not be an immediate cause for alarm. What is concerning though is that those same factors that make respiratory disease more common this time of year could also make it easier for a novel pathogen to spread. And this disease has already shown a propensity to do that,” the Cary veterinary office’s update said.

Can humans be impacted by the illness?

Questions have also been raised about whether or not humans can catch this mysterious respiratory illness, but at this time, it’s not yet known.

“In general, the risk of people getting sick from dogs with canine infectious respiratory disease is extremely low,” AVMA’s Carlson said. “However, because we don’t know yet exactly what agent or agents is, or are causing the current outbreak, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash your hands after handling your or other dogs.”

Precautions to take to keep pets safe

Most respiratory illnesses spread among dogs in shared spaces, or sometimes through items that have been exposed to a sick pet, according to Truss Vets, but there are some precautions owners can take:

  • Avoid boarding dogs.

  • Avoid traveling with dogs.

  • Make sure dogs are up to date on vaccinations.

  • Consider an alternative walk area to avoid other dogs.

  • Don’t wait until dogs show symptoms to alter behavior if they are showing even mild signs of respiratory disease.

“Kind of like what we were doing during COVID… you know, not going to the dog park, not going to daycare, you know really avoiding contact with unknown dogs unless we know that this is a dog that’s always home all the time and isn’t showing any respiratory symptoms… and if we have a sick dog, seek veterinary care,” Ross-Estrada of NC State explained.

“I don’t know that dog owners need to be any more alarmed than they are on the day-to-day basis if they’re practicing good social distance, being around known dogs that don’t have clinical illness … I think if we practice good judgment, I don’t think pet owners need to have any additional concerns.”