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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As fears over respiratory illness in dogs spread, Washington state vet says there isn’t enough data to panic

A dozen beagles rescued from a breeding facility in Virginia play at SpokAnimal with Melissa Cameron on Aug. 22, 2022.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

Officials are on alert about a mystery respiratory illness killing dogs, but they haven’t found proof or noticed trends that it’s spreading in Washington.

Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle, who works at the Department of Agriculture, said state laboratories are tracking trends of diseases in animals. Just like humans, it’s also common for dogs to get respiratory diseases, viruses, bacterial infections or a strong cough that can usually be resolved with treatment or time, she said.

“We don’t have enough data to show we have something new,” Itle said.

SpokAnimal, an animal shelter in Spokane, began quarantining their dogs five weeks ago because they saw an illness that looked like kennel cough, but turned into pneumonia. It wasn’t something the shelter had seen before, Executive Director Dori Peck said. The sickness came with coughing, lethargy, lack of eating and a runny nose. One of their dogs died, so they sent the body to Washington State University for testing. Certain tests came back negative, so “nobody knows what it is just yet,” Peck said. “It should worry people.”

The shelter also closed their intake and outtake of dogs to prevent any disease spread, writing on their Facebook page they have treated the dogs with antibiotics and nebulizing fluids and “are still seeing a few dogs become sick, but the number of new sick dogs are few and getting lower.”

Spokane County Regional Protection Service, the countywide animal control agency that has a shelter in Spokane Valley, also posted on Facebook Thursday that the agency has been diligently cleaning and monitoring the dogs in the facility due to a virus “that is under investigation nationwide to determine the best approach” to treat them.

Oregon is experiencing more than 200 cases of what the American Veterinary Medical Association called “a canine infectious respiratory disease.” The association said on its website the cases reported to Oregon have similar symptoms like chronic mild to moderate inflammation of the trachea which isn’t always responsive to antimicrobials, a nonstop pneumonia or a pneumonia that becomes so severe it leads to death in one to two days. Itle said she can’t speak for other states, but scientists in Washington are not seeing a reputable trend coming through workups in the laboratories.

What the state is seeing, however, is a huge increase in rescue dogs being brought into shelters. Some of them might not have their full vaccination history at the shelter, some might not be vaccinated at all and shelters often can spread a sickness more easily due to stress and proximity to other dogs, Itle said.

It’s common for rescue dogs to have unknown health issues. Itle said if a dangerous, mysterious illness is flooding the dogs in Washington, the necropsy, or animal autopsy, would show that. But she’s only seen underlying health issues that predisposed the dog to a respiratory illness.

Out of the two cases reported to the state, the dogs have not had a full diagnostic workup that would isolate the disease better for more specific answers. And, the ones that could test negative for a virus may do so only because the virus isn’t “shedding” or reproducing, she said.

“That doesn’t mean it’s something new and novel,” Itle said. “There are a lot of viruses that don’t respond to antibiotics. Until the virus runs it course, they will continue to cough.”

Every year, the state gets reports of small isolated outbreaks, she said, but it’s not much different than any other year.

“They’re seeing different presentations of a disease, but we expect to see that,” Itle said. “We aren’t seeing it across the state,” although she and other veterinarians are on alert watching for anything out of the ordinary.

To better prevent concern or health issues in a pet, Itle recommends getting a pet vaccinated and boosted, or revaccinated if it’s been a long time. And if the animal gets sick, take it to the vet and request a full diagnostic workup. This way, underlying health issues can be addressed and any mysterious outbreaks are reported to the state for tracking.