- More than 200 cases of the illness have been reported in the US
- The owner of a shih tzu that died is urging owners to avoid crowded dog parks
- READ MORE: Advice for dog owners to keep pets safe from mysterious disease
A woman who believes her dog died of the new ‘mysterious’ dog virus spreading across the US is issuing a warning to other pet parents on how to keep their dogs safe.
Trang Huyen believes her shih tzu, Chowder, died from the unknown condition that’s infected hundreds of dogs across the country and is urging other owners to now avoid crowded dog parks.
Since August, more than 200 dogs have tested positive and several have died from the illness, which first resembles the common virus kennel cough but could turn serious and lead to death. Possible cases have been reported in Colorado, California, Indiana, Washington and Georgia.
Chowder became sick in October and his symptoms appeared minor until he began struggling to breathe. He died just a few days later.
Now, Ms Huyen says dog owners need ‘to take safety precautions, such as limiting time at dog parks and areas with other dogs.’
Chowder became sick in October and his symptoms appeared minor until he began struggling to breathe and died days later
Ms Huyen, from Pensacola, Florida, said: ‘It started with a small dry cough and being more lethargic each and every day after that’
According to Ms Huyen, who didn’t wish to reveal her age, Chowder’s initial symptoms matched the new disease. The dog was lethargic, he refused to eat and had a cough.
Chowder’s tongue also turned blue as his symptoms began to worsen.
Ms Huyen, from Pensacola, Florida, said: ‘It started with a small dry cough and being more lethargic each and every day after that.
‘It did not [seem serious]. Chowder would have seasonal allergies so I thought nothing of it.
‘Things started to change when his breathing was much heavier and he did not want to eat or drink.’
The new mystery illness was described by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as an ‘atypical canine infectious respiratory disease.’
Reported symptoms of the disease include a cough that can last for weeks, runny eyes and sneezing.
The illness could progress and lead to pneumonia, which can result in death within 36 hours.
While the illness remained a mystery for the first few weeks of its appearance, researchers at the University of New Hampshire believe they have identified the bacteria that’s causing it.
Dr David Needle, a veterinary pathologist who led the research, said it was a ‘funky’ organism — that is as yet unnamed — and had not been observed before.
His team found the bacteria by performing forensic tests on 70 dogs who’d developed the tell-tale symptoms over the last two years.
Speaking to NBC News, he said this was ‘new as a potential cause of disease, but it is likely to be — or to have evolved from — a component of the dog microbiome [millions of bacteria found inside the animals’ gut].’
He also described the bacteria as being smaller than other types and said it had few specific genetic characteristics – making it harder to detect.
The disease is spread through droplets in the air when dogs sneeze, cough or bark. No cases have been reported of the disease passing over to humans.
Ms Huyen, a beauty business owner, believes Chowder’s case was too early for vets to correctly diagnose, but that the symptoms match the new illness.
Vets diagnosed him with pneumonia but disagreed on causes – one suggested allergies and another aspiration.
Do’s and don’ts
- Ensure your dog is up-to-date with vaccinations
- Avoid large meetings of unknown dogs
- Avoid communal water bowls
Ms Huyen explained: ‘We went to the ER vet and visited multiple veterinarians. Not one veterinarian knew about the mystery dog illness at the time of my visit.
‘I realized that many others were going through the same thing with their pet.
‘They all had the same symptoms: cough and severe respiratory issues.’
Ms Huyen spent roughly $4,000 on treatments, including x-rays, medication and oxygen chamber therapy.
Unfortunately, the treatments had no effect and Chowder passed away just days after his symptoms began showing.
Ms Huyen, who has had Chowder for more than 10 years, said: ‘Chowder meant the world to me. He was a significant part of my family. He followed me everywhere.
‘For the past decade, he was my constant companion, my source of comfort during the darkest times and the one who brought boundless joy into my life.’
Vets are issuing a similar warning to Ms Huyen’s, urging dog owners to avoid crowded dog parks and communal water bowls. Dogs should also be kept away from daycares, groomers and boarding kennels – anywhere large groups of dogs frequent.
Dogs also need to be kept up to date on their vaccinations and sick animals should be kept home. Vet care should be sought immediately if your pet displays any symptoms.
The disease has been shown to be resistant to common respiratory treatments, such as antimicrobial drugs. While several dogs are believed to have died from the virus, experts say deaths do not seem to be a large consequence.
However, without a clear way to define the disease or test for it, it’s difficult to determine how many dogs actually have the virus and how many have died from a severe form of the infection.