Dog owners and veterinarians on Long Island are keeping an eye out for a mysterious respiratory illness that has sickened and even killed some canines in other parts of the country.
While the illness has not been reported in New York, cases have been found in states including Colorado, Oregon, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Veterinarians have reported over 200 cases to the Oregon Department of Agriculture since August.
“It’s really a challenge right now; we don't know what's causing this,” said veterinarian Rena Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “There is a group of viruses and bacteria that are known to cause respiratory disease in dogs, and this does not appear to be any of those.”
She said this respiratory disease causes different levels of illness. Some dogs have mild to moderate bronchitis that lasts six to eight weeks, and some develop pneumonia that doesn’t appear to respond to antibiotics. In the most severe and sometimes fatal cases, the dogs quickly develop acute pneumonia within 24 to 36 hours.
Eric Johnson, a veterinarian at the Dix Hills Animal Hospital, said owners should look out for coughing, sneezing, runny nose, lethargy and decreased appetite in their pups and consult a veterinarian if they spot these symptoms.
Those are the same symptoms for other respiratory viruses such as canine influenza, canine adenovirus and canine parainfluenza.
“We don’t know a heck of a lot yet,” Johnson said. “At this time, we think it's viral although we haven't figured out the organism yet, so we’re not sure.”
Researchers at veterinary labs in Oregon and New Hampshire are investigating the illness.
Outbreaks of respiratory disease, especially at animal shelters or boarding facilities, are common, said Colin Parrish, professor of virology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of microbiology and immunology.
“They call it kennel cough, which is a catchall for different respiratory illnesses,” he said. “Most dogs have a mild disease and recover uneventfully. That’s why people are concerned. This is something new.”
Parrish also said reports show the illness is widespread, even though the ability for respiratory viruses to spread is relatively limited.
Experts said dog owners can take steps to protect their pooches by making sure they are up-to-date on their vaccines, avoiding dogs that are sick and by not sharing water bowls with other dogs.
David Ceely, executive director of the Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Huntington, said he is keeping an eye on the national reports of the respiratory illness.
“All of our dogs are fully vaccinated,” he said. “We have our own dog park, too.”
He said when dogs are rescued from other states, they are placed in quarantine for two weeks and monitored to make sure they are healthy before allowing them to mix with other pups at the shelter.
At a dog park in Nesconset, owners said they weren’t overly concerned about the mysterious illness, especially since there have been no reports in the state.
“I don’t worry because the people here at the dog park are extremely responsible,” said Barbara Hansen, of Smithtown, who was with her dog, Mollie. “If their dogs are sick, they wouldn’t bring them here.”
Natalie Ramirez, of Lake Grove, said she will continue to bring her dog, Winston, to the park daily.
“I think it’s something to keep an eye on,” she said.
With Shari Einhorn