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Here's what we know – and don't know – about mysterious dog respiratory illness

Dog Disease Outbreak as respiratory disease epidemic with canine parvovirus and CPV outbreak virus and bacteria pet illness or Canine Parvovirus Influenza or dog flu.
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The Connecticut Department of Agriculture says dogs owners should be careful about contact with other dogs, as an atypical Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIRDC) has been reported nationally and in nearby northeast states.

Connecticut's Department of Agriculture says there have not been any confirmed cases of a mysterious respiratory dog illness that has been reported in more than a dozen states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

“The agency is communicating with companion animal veterinarians requesting they report unusual canine respiratory disease or mortality to the state veterinarian’s office,” the department said in a statement.

Yet that doesn't mean the illness hasn't arrived in the state.

One reason? Not all dogs who get sick, get tested, said Dr. Christopher Gargamelli with the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association.

“The cases that we're calling confirmed, are the severe cases that are being tested and are not testing for the common pathogens,” he said, such as kennel cough or influenza.

In other words, there may have been dogs in Connecticut who have contracted the respiratory illness, but were able to get better, so they weren’t tested.

Symptoms of the mysterious illness are like kennel cough or pneumonia, but don't respond to antibiotics, Gargamelli said. They include coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge.

“The most severe cases, the ones that are attracting most of the media attention, is this really rapidly developing severe pneumonia that's not responding to our typical treatment,” Gargamelli said. “These are the ones that unfortunately, we're seeing animals pass away from.”

Upticks in respiratory illnesses in dogs are normal during the summer and the holiday season because that is when more people travel and need to board their dogs.

“Enclosed, confined contact is how diseases spread,” he said.

The New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has been working since last year to try and isolate an organism that may be behind the illness.

But a professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Jane Sykes, told NPR that dog owners should avoid panic.

"It's entirely possible that there are just a ton of different bugs and viruses causing disease in different parts of the country,” Sykes said.

What should dog owners do?

Connecticut’s Agriculture Department has a list of suggestions on its website, including advising dog owners to talk with their veterinarian about vaccines for canine influenza, Bordetella and parainfluenza.

When it comes to what to do about boarding your dog or attending doggy daycare even if your pet is fully vaccinated, Gargamelli says it’s all about an owner’s “comfort level with how much risk you want to expose your pet to.”

“Think back to the [COVID-19] pandemic, when masking wasn't mandated. Some people chose to continue to wear a mask and take a cautious approach with crowds,” he said.

He advises using the same approach with this atypical canine infectious respiratory disease.

So owners of dogs who are very young or old or are immunocompromised should be extra cautious around other dogs, he said.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.