How to protect your dog from a ‘mystery’ respiratory illness

As one Unknown canine respiratory disease Clusters around the United States continue to pop up – causing symptoms like coughing, fever and lethargy, and in more severe cases, hospitalization or death.

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

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

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

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

Remember that some dogs are at higher risk of more serious complications if they are sick.

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

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

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

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

“We know how the disease spreads, usually through droplets and face-to-face contact,” he said. “So if we just avoid those scenarios, we’re probably being as safe as we can be.”

But if you rely on dog day care while you’re at work, for example, or if you plan to take your dog on vacation, some steps can help reduce the risks in group settings. can do

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

“Make sure they’re following strict guidelines with any dogs that are allowed in the building,” Dr. Silverstein said. “If they show up, and they cough or sneeze, they shouldn’t be allowed in.” Although he cautioned that dogs are likely to shed the virus before showing any symptoms.

Ask about the groups your dog will be spending time with, suggests Dr. MacDougall. Are 30 dogs running at once? Will there be different dogs every day? Smaller, more consistent groupings 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 outdoor facilities to care for their dogs. “You decide how much risk you’re willing to take.”

There are dog parks. Already somewhat controversialDr. Silverstein said, even though she knows how cute they can be.

But for now, she said, it’s “safest to stay away from other dogs whose health status and vaccination status are unknown,” unless you believe your area has a “very low incidence of the disease.” are (Cases have been reported in several states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, but the number is rising and the disease is likely to spread, experts say.) Some communities have temporarily closed dog parks. have done.

Alternatively, Dr. Silverstein said dog owners could consider having a “play date” with another dog whose health and vaccine status they know—though there’s no guarantee of safety.

The veterinarians we spoke to emphasized that pet owners should talk to their veterinarians if they have questions about whether a case has occurred locally, or If they need help weighing their pet’s risks.

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

Dogs that appear lethargic or are having trouble breathing need immediate attention.

Dr. Silverstein and Dr. McDougal said that precautions are taken in veterinary practices to avoid exposure between patients, and acknowledged that many clinics and animal hospitals There were backupsso finding care can be easier said than done.

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