As an unidentified canine respiratory disease continues to appear in clusters across the United States – causing symptoms such as coughing, fever and lethargy, and in more severe cases, hospitalization or death – many dog owners are ask what steps they should take to keep their dog. their animals safe.
Despite the alarming headlines about deaths, veterinarians are urging pet owners to be cautious, but not panic.
“At this time, I don’t think there’s any reason for extreme concern,” said Dr. Deborah Silverstein, professor of small animal emergency medicine and critical care at the veterinary hospital. Ryan from the University of Pennsylvania. “I think now is the time to be careful and stay informed.”
We spoke with Dr. Silverstein and other experts about the strategies they recommend (and in some cases use at home) to protect dogs’ health.
Know your dog’s risk factors.
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, said Dr. Silverstein.
Remember that some dogs are at higher risk of more serious complications if they become ill.
“The animals that we’re really concerned about getting serious infections are those that don’t have good immune systems,” Dr. Silverstein said. “So these 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 suffer from comorbidities or other diseases that could weaken their immune system.”
Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, like pugs and French and English bulldogs, also tend to have a harder time clearing respiratory tract infections, Dr. Silverstein said.
Be careful around other dogs.
The safest way to keep dogs safe is to isolate them from other dogs, said Dr. Renee McDougall, a specialist surgeon at Bond Vet. She and her husband have a five-year-old pit bull mix, Rupert, who loves to walk and sniff other dogs. But over the past three weeks, she said, the couple has stopped her from greeting each other face to face.
“My dog is so sad!” Dr. McDougall admitted.
“We know that this disease typically spreads through droplets and face-to-face interactions,” she 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 plan to board your dog while on vacation, there are steps you can take to help mitigate group risks.
Dog daycares or boarding facilities:
Ask about the facility’s vaccine requirements and testing policies, both experts said.
“Make sure they follow strict guidelines with any dogs allowed in the building,” Dr. Silverstein said. “If they come in and cough or sneeze, they should not be allowed in.” Although she cautioned that dogs likely shed the virus before showing symptoms.
Dr. McDougall recommended asking questions about the size of the group your dog will be spending time in. Is it, say, 30 dogs running together? Will different dogs be present each day? It’s best to have smaller, cohesive groups, she said. And ideally, dogs shouldn’t share toys or water bowls.
“You are the dog parent,” Dr. McDougall said, acknowledging that many owners rely on outside facilities to care for their pups. “You decide how much risk you are willing to take.”
Dog parks are already somewhat controversial, Dr. Silverstein said, although she knows how popular they can be.
But for now, she said it’s “prudent to stay away from other dogs whose health and vaccination status are unknown” unless you are certain there are ” very low incidence of disease” in your area. (Cases have been reported in several states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, but numbers are rising and the disease is likely more widespread, experts say.) Some communities have temporarily closed parks to dogs.
As an alternative, Dr. Silverstein said dog owners might consider having a “play date” with another dog whose health and vaccination status they know – although there is no has no guarantee of security.
If in doubt, contact your veterinarian.
The veterinarians we spoke to emphasized that pet owners should speak to their veterinarians if they have questions about whether there are cases locally or if they need help assessing their pet’s risk.
Contact your veterinarian if you notice your dog coughing or having a discharge from the nose or eyes, Dr. Silverstein said. If your pet is eating and acting normally, the veterinarian may advise you to monitor him at home for 24 to 48 hours or schedule a telehealth visit, Dr. McDougall said.
Dogs that appear lethargic or have difficulty breathing require immediate attention.
Dr. Silverstein and Dr. McDougall each said veterinary practices are taking care to avoid patient exposure and acknowledged that many veterinary clinics and hospitals have been savedso finding care may be easier said than done.