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Cases of dog respiratory illness are rising in Canada and the U.S. Do I need to worry?

We have the latest on what to know about symptoms and treatment.

Medical mask. Dog in a medical mask. A leading Canadian veterinarian says there is a rise in respiratory illnesses in dogs in the country, but it's not necessarily a cause for panic. (Getty)
A leading Canadian veterinarian says there is a rise in respiratory illnesses in dogs in the country, but it's not necessarily a cause for panic. (Getty)

After reports of an unusual respiratory illness infecting dogs in the United States have created buzz, Canadian veterinarians are now also reporting a rise in cases.

A dog owner from Hamilton, Ont., told CHCH this week his two dogs were in "rough shape" when infected with the suspected illness, especially one named Moose.

"He started with the gagging and then he would throw up. Sometimes that would happen two-three times an hour," Mike Mancini told CHCH.

Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinary internal medicine specialist and the chief of Infection Control at the Ontario Veterinary College, claimed insurance reports of respiratory illness in dogs in Ontario are up 25 per cent compared to the previous year. In Quebec, they're up by 70 per cent, and up by 32 per cent in Nova Scotia, according to the CHCH.

CTV reported in mid-November this illness has caused "lasting respiratory disease and pneumonia" and it "does not respond to antibiotics." According to CTV, "the Oregon Department of Agriculture has documented more than 200 cases of the disease since mid-August," and two dogs have died.

But, is this illness new and should Canadian pet owners worry now that it's crossed the border?

Yahoo Canada previously spoke with Dr. Weese about the illness. Here's what you need to know.


What do we know about this respiratory illness in dogs?

Much like humans experience cold and flu, dogs are susceptible to various respiratory issues. (Getty)
Much like humans experience cold and flu, dogs are susceptible to various respiratory issues. (Getty)

Weese emphasized, in a Nov. 21 interview, while reports suggested an increase in respiratory disease cases in dogs, it's crucial to recognize these illnesses are not rare.

Much like humans experience cold and flu, dogs are susceptible to various respiratory issues.

The challenge lies in determining whether the recent reports indicate a surge in the usual cases, the presence of a new pathogen, or simply heightened awareness, he claimed.

"We don't actually know if there's anything new... We're just wondering if there's more of it happening, but it's a bit unclear," Weese explained.

The symptoms associated with this respiratory illness are typical of such conditions — coughing, runny nose, lethargy. Weese said the majority of dogs exhibit mild symptoms, but a small percentage may develop more severe conditions like pneumonia, and unfortunately, a fraction of those may die.


Some vets are reportedly giving Paxlovid to sick dogs. Does it actually help?

In a Dec. 4 blog post, Dr. Weese wrote using Paxlovid on dogs sick with a respiratory disease, "wasn't on my bingo card for 2023."

Paxlovid, an antiviral medication used to treat COVID-19 was allegedly prescribed by a U.S. vet to save a dog "on the brink of death," the TMZ reported.

"The life of a bulldog named Cash — who was struggling to breathe with inflamed lungs while coughing up blood — was spared when Doug Swain, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Lyman Vet Clinic in Cass County, Iowa, gave him the antiviral pills... Since then, he has continued to prescribe Paxlovid to other dogs battling severe cases of the mysterious illness," the outlet wrote.

Weese, however, remains sceptical.

I suspect widespread use of Paxlovid in dogs would result in harming more dogs than it would help.Dr. Scott Weese (via Worms and Germs Blog)

"I suspect the dog got better on its own despite Paxlovid (not because of it), but can't say for sure," he wrote in the blog post. "However, I can say that I don't see any evidence that we should be using this drug in dogs, and I have a variety of concerns about its use in this manner."

He added, "We don't have dosing or safety info in dogs... and I suspect widespread use of Paxlovid in dogs would result in harming more dogs than it would help."


Why is this illness difficult to diagnose?

Weese told Yahoo Canada, confirming the exact cause is difficult as veterinarians don't tend to do a lot of testing on dogs with respiratory illnesses. With numerous pathogens capable of triggering respiratory issues in dogs, testing is often impractical.

Moreover, the expert pointed out discussions around a particular disease tend to escalate when attention is drawn to it, potentially leading to an overreaction.

"On any given day, there are thousands of dogs in Canada that are coughing from this type of respiratory disease — and that's always been the case. We just don't pay attention to those normally," Weese claimed. "So the question is, are we just paying attention to the background diseases that are there? Or is there something new?"


Should Canadian pet owners worry?

The expert emphasized the need for vigilance and common sense, rather than panic.

Weese urged Canadian pet owners to be aware of their dogs' health and to take general precautions.

"If your dog is sick, keep it home, keep your dog away from other dogs. If they look sick, you can talk to your vet about vaccination, as there are some respiratory diseases we can vaccinate against — not all of them."

It's just just like dealing with kids, with colds and flu season... There's always some degree of risk.Dr. Scott Weese

He explained the best measure is reducing the number of dog contacts without being too restrictive.

"Dogs have to get together at times too. It's just just like dealing with kids, with colds and flu season... There's always some degree of risk, and we try to minimize it as much as we can."

Weese clarified respiratory diseases in dogs are diverse, with terminology sometimes causing confusion. Diseases like pneumonia, often mentioned alongside respiratory illnesses, are outcomes rather than specific diseases, caused by various bacteria and viruses.

As the situation unfolds, Canadian pet owners are advised to stay informed, follow veterinary guidance, and prioritize the well-being of their furry companions through sensible precautions.

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