(WJAR) — Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is advising pet owners not to let their pets mingle with other dogs amid rise of an unknown respiratory disease.
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RIDEM said that veterinarians and epidemiologists have identified an unknown but highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. Officials said the unknown disease is causing more severe illness and carries higher resistance to antibiotics than typical respiratory infections.
“We don’t know what is causing this situation, where dogs are presenting at veterinarians with what private veterinarians would call kennel cough or canine infectious respiratory disease,” State Veterinarian Scott Marshall said. “What’s different about this situation is that dogs are presenting with little bit more severe signs, not responding to usual treatments, and unfortunately had a small number, still a number, of dogs that have succumbed to them.”
Marshall said he is aware of around 35 cases of the unknown disease in Rhode Island so far. He said the illness seems to be more prevalent, but as this is an unknown disease, it is not reported as consistently.
Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association President Shelly Pancoast, who works at Bay State Veterinary Emergency Services in Swansea and Ocean State Veterinary Specialist in East Greenwich, said she has seen around five to 10 dogs that have died from this disease.
Pancoast said the veterinaries she works at have noticed a respiratory disease that were affecting young, otherwise healthy dogs with no risk factor presenting severe symptoms and atypical pneumonia from last summer to fall. She said the two veterinaries have started to track these cases from this year.
“We still don’t have a great handle on how exactly we should be treating these dogs,” she said. “A vast majority of them are making full recovery, it’s just unlike anything we’ve seen in previous years with kennel cough.”
Marshall said that a common thread is that most cases have an association with dogs recently commingling with other dogs at places such as dog parks, shelters, groomers or kennels.
“In the same way that people spread germs and illnesses by interacting with other people, dogs transmit disease when congregating with other dogs,” Marshall said. “For this reason, and particularly until the agent causing the illness is known, we are recommending that dog owners avoid needless risks of exposure.”
Health officials said to prevent exposure, owners are advised to avoid bringing pets to the neighborhood dog park or into stores where pets are allowed. They also said indoor facilities such as pounds, shelters, rescues, kennels, groomers, doggy daycare centers and pet shops should consult with their veterinarian to discuss proper cleaning and disinfection procedures.
DEM said that Rhode Island is one of at least 10 states to have reported cases of the respiratory disease. Evidence suggests that the infection is limited to dogs, according to officials.
More about the canine respiratory disease can be found on RIDEM’s website.
NBC 10’s Leanna Faulk contributed to this report.