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‘Mystery’ dog illness now in Canada. But should owners worry?

Click to play video: 'Why Canadian dog owners may not need to worry about ‘unusual’ illness'
Why Canadian dog owners may not need to worry about ‘unusual’ illness
WATCH: Why Canadian dog owners may not need to worry about "unusual" illness – Dec 7, 2023

Dog owners in Canada should take precautions as a relatively new respiratory illness that started making its way across the U.S. has now crossed the border, but at least one veterinary expert says not to let that worry keep their pups indoors.

In the past few months, cases started being reported in more than a dozen states and veterinary laboratories said they were investigating an unusual respiratory illness.

According to the labs, symptoms included coughing, sneezing nasal or eye discharge and lethargy, with some cases of pneumonia progressing quickly, leaving dogs very sick within 24 to 48 hours.

Some vets said the illness resembled “kennel cough,” a contagious and infectious respiratory disease that causes a forceful, persistent, hacking cough or gagging sound in dogs.

But Des Moines, Iowa, veterinarian Melissa Beyer told CBS News Detroit that there were factors that separated them from that disease.

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“They look and sound and everything about them feels like it should be kennel cough type disease, but they’re just not responding like a normal kennel cough would,” she said.

Among the issues was that it didn’t respond to antibiotics either.

Click to play video: 'Mystery respiratory illness spreading in dogs across the U.S.'
Mystery respiratory illness spreading in dogs across the U.S.

Despite these issues, however, Scott Weese with the Ontario Veterinary College told Global News that even with the various reports raising concerns, he believes the virus is the “usual suspects.”

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“We typically see up and down respiratory disease in dogs. It’s like people we see seasons when we see more people get colds and more people get flu,” he said. “The key thing at this point is there’s a lot of talk about a mystery virus and it doesn’t really seem like there’s a mystery virus. We’re still looking but it seems like this is the usual suspects doing the usual thing, just at a higher rate than normal.”

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While it is normal to worry about your furry friends, he said that owners can in most cases treat it just like a human cold where the most they really need is to stay home and rest.

However, if a dog is not wanting to eat, has discharge on their nose or eyes or may have breathing difficulties, Weese advises taking the canine companion to the vet as it could be developing into pneumonia which can be dangerous for dogs.

There have been no reported deaths of dogs as a result of the disease so far, but in the U.S., while rare, there still have been a few deaths — though Kurt Williams, director of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University told The Associated Press said it’s hard to put a number on how many have died from a severe form of the infection.

In Canada, it’s difficult to determine how widespread the illness is but Weese pointed to pet insurance claims for respiratory-related diseases as a good snapshot, with Trupanion noting a year-over-year increase of claims of 6.2 per cent in B.C., 25.17 per cent in Ontario, 32.68 per cent in Nova Scotia and 70.73 per cent in Quebec.

However, he added that while the increase in cases may have sparked this concern by veterinarians and dog owners, it may also be awareness that is causing the public to be more aware.

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Click to play video: 'Veterinarians on high alert after canine influenza reported in Calgary'
Veterinarians on high alert after canine influenza reported in Calgary

“We see things that come and go, we’ll see more disease in one town or one region, we get this outbreak and then it goes away,” he said. “The other aspect of this is we’ve got more attention being paid to diseases that we probably wouldn’t have paid as much attention to a year or even a few months ago because we’re sensitized to it.

“There are always dogs that have a respiratory disease, it’s always circulating around, but we’re paying more attention to it now.”

According to Williams, owners should not panic and instead focus on doing things to keep their pets protected, which include ensuring their pets are up to date on vaccines.

There has also been the question of whether dogs should be able to go to dog parks or even doggy daycare, but Weese said Canadians should think about the cost-benefit that comes with it. As more and more businesses are asking employees to return to the office, those who have dogs — including those who got a dog during the COVID-19 pandemic — are now having to decide how to ensure their furry pup gets care while they’re at the office.

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He said it’s why dog owners, even if they’re worried, should not let that worry keep their dogs inside.

“We’re definitely not at the point where we’re saying, ‘OK, keep your dog at home, don’t send it to a daycare because there’s too much risk,'” Weese said. “The benefits of dogs getting out, benefits for people being able to get out and go to work still outweigh the risks if we take some commonsense practices.”

with files from The Associated Press

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