Oregon deemed a dog respiratory illness a “mystery” after more than 200 cases starting over the summer led to some fatalities among dogs that did not respond to usual antibiotics.
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The American Veterinary Medical Association said in a release Friday it is monitoring reports of similar illnesses in multiple states and the infectious agent is under investigation.
Lack of funding and a centralized reporting agency makes transmission, fatality and prevalence rates difficult to track. But new pet insurance claims data published by Trupanion show some insights.
Dr. Scott Weese, an expert in emerging animal diseases, told USA TODAY in a Thursday interview that while this data is a small subset, it is better than no data and can provide helpful insights. He is the author of the Worms & Germs Blog, a resource that multiple state veterinary agencies and organizations are pointing to.
Weese said that, while respiratory illness appears to be on the rise in some areas, there likely is no need for panic yet. While veterinarians contend with cases that are common kennel cough, increased cases through a greater pet population, and the potential of a novel disease, Weese said the fact that data shows cases waning in some states is a good sign.
“It seems like we have had some clusters of disease in some states…and it seems like some of these have died down,” Weese said. “Nothing at this point that’s smoking gun that says yeah, we’ve got this new bug that’s come along.”
More:Mystery dog respiratory illness: These are the symptoms humans should be on the lookout for.
Dog respiratory illness claims up in Canada, Oregon and Nevada
Canine respiratory illness related claims with Trupanion have increased in some areas of the country compared to the same time last year.
The claims released by the company, which constitute 2% of the total insurance claims, provide an insight into where these cases might be on the rise:
These territories showed an increase in respiratory claims from August to October in 2023 compared to 2022.
- Quebec, Canada – 70.73% increase
- Oregon, U.S. – 61.86% increase
- Ontario, Canada – 25.17% increase
- Nevada, U.S. – 43.05% increase
- Colorado, U.S. – 36.46% increase
- California, U.S. – 8.71% increase
Further, the Colorado State University veterinary school has seen a 50% uptick in dogs developing pneumonia in 2023 compared to August – November of last year, according to Dr. Michael Lappin who spoke with Weese at a panel discussion on the disease Thursday.
COVID disruptions could be driving some of the rise in cases
Even with an uptick in pneumonia cases, Weese cautioned that there could just be more sick dogs as opposed to a more severe disease.
They way he described it, changes in disease could come from a viral change or a dog population change.
The lockdowns and disruptions to human life caused by the COVD19 pandemic have certainly caused latter. More people became pet owners during the pandemic, some dogs experienced less exposure to other dogs at daycare or parks while their parents stayed home, and veterinary care became harder to access, creating disruptions in vaccine schedules.
While none of these factors alone may account for an uptick in illness today, Weese says altogether they could have an impact.
“You layer that on, and we start getting into maybe a dog population, that’s going to be a lot more susceptible,” he said.
Why it is difficult to know dog respiratory illness rates
Weese said that the media attention alone could be driving more people to go to the vet when their dog has a cough and create an uptick in reporting.
But he said the primary challenge to understanding the prevalence is that there is no organized surveillance, leaving scientists to gather the data they can. However, many snapshots lack historical data.
Another barrier is lack of testing, as tests don’t capture all the possible diseases that could cause a symptom like coughing.
“So a good percentage of our of our sick, coughing dogs all the time would come up negative on a PCR panel, because we don’t know what’s there,” Weese said. “The other thing with the testing is, sometimes we test too late…By time we take the sample, they may not be shedding the virus or bacterium that’s there.”
Without widespread testing, Weese urges that dog owners be vigilant for illness in the area and consider your dog’s risk of becoming seriously ill if they catch a cough. Much like humans, we know if common colds are going around anecdotally and only worry when we become very obviously sick. The same thinking can be applied to dogs, Weese said.
“So you know if there’s a lot of disease in your area or it sounds like there is, then we’d be a little bit more restrictive,” Weese said, noting that limiting contact with other dogs is the way to do that. “If your dog is at higher risk for serious disease then be wise to be more strict.”
Weese and other experts, also recommended keeping pets vaccinated.
Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund, Saman Shafiq