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Laboratories in at least four states are investigating a mysterious respiratory disease in dogs that shows symptoms similar to kennel cough but can last longer and, in some cases, be fatal, according to veterinarians.

Infected dogs experience cough, fever, lethargy and occasionally loss of appetite. Unexplained illness by veterinarians has led to hospitalizations and deaths of older dogs or those with health problems.

Although the number of infections is not officially known, veterinarians say that many dogs have been treated for these symptoms in the past few months. Cases have been reported in at least four states — Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island — but experts doubt the disease is widespread.

Dr. Lindsay Ganzer, a veterinarian and CEO of North Springs Veterinary Referral Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has treated about 35 dogs with the disease since late October.

Four dogs were dead or about to die. She said she can treat dogs of all breeds and ages. Some just had a cough, others had pneumonia, she said.

However, there was one thing in common between them: they spent time in dog-focused places like boarding facilities, doggy day care or dog parks. Dr. Ganzer said she worries that vets may see an increase in cases as more owners board their dogs or send them to daycare during the holidays.

“Hopefully, just by getting the word out, people will be less inclined to do that,” she says. “The veterinary community as a whole is horrified.”

Since mid-August, veterinarians in Oregon have reported more than 200 cases American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Stephen Kochis, chief medical officer for the Oregon Humane Society, said people don’t want to panic because that number represents a small percentage of the dogs in the state.

“We are not seeing a greater concern about respiratory disease than would be expected from pets that are susceptible to respiratory disease,” he said. He added that there are many respiratory diseases that can be treated.

For example, dogs with kennel cough may show similar symptoms, such as coughing, loss of appetite, fever and lethargy, which usually resolve within one to three weeks. Owners should not worry if their dogs show signs of this developing illness, but they should be vigilant.

“We’ve all been through Covid,” he said. If your dog shows signs of respiratory illness, I would say isolate them at home, call your vet and get them checked out.

Normally, dogs recover from respiratory illnesses on their own or with the help of antibiotics, but with this latest illness, that’s not always the case, said Dr. Curt Williams, director of the Oregon Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. at Oregon State University.

“In these dogs, it lasted longer or took a downward spiral and resulted in more severe outcomes, including death,” he said.

Experts are not sure whether the disease is caused by bacteria or viruses. Some vets in Oregon suspect it may be a virus because the dogs they treated did not respond to antibiotics.

“I’m open to being, and I’m open to being something we don’t think about,” Dr. Williams said.

Dr. David Needle, a senior veterinarian at the New Hampshire Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, has been researching the disease for about a year.

Dr. Needle and colleagues at the university’s Hubbard Center for Genome Research hope to gain clarity after conducting tests to determine whether the organisms that cause the disease share the same genetic makeup based on samples taken from across the country.

“Something big is happening,” he said. “Whether it’s the same thing remains to be seen.”

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