Veterinarians in Colorado and other states such as Oregon, New Hampshire, Idaho, Florida and more have reported a shocking spike in canine respiratory disease cases since autumn of 2023 — and the pattern of illness is proving to be potentially fatal.
A local veterinary practice, Tender Care Veterinary Center, reported that veterinarians have identified some cases of the illness at both its Falcon and Colorado Springs facilities.
The regional director of Tender Care Veterinary Centers, Jessica Torres, said, “The number of cases seems to be holding steady and is not rapidly increasing within our facilities. Although Tender Care Veterinary Centers have not had a confirmed case that has ended in the death of the patient, other hospitals in the area are reporting that deaths have occurred.”
As of mid-December, other Falcon veterinary practices, such as Falcon Family Vet and For Paws Veterinary Clinic, reported that they have not seen cases of the respiratory illness in their facilities.
The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region also reported that it has not seen cases of the illness in the Colorado Springs or Pueblo shelter facilities as of mid-December, but the report states that their veterinary staff are aware it is in the area.
According to an online statement released by the Colorado Department of Agriculture on Nov. 22, veterinarians at the time reported that they were seeing double the number of cases than what is typically seen during a canine infectious respiratory disease outbreak.
In addition to an increase in the number of cases, the cases seen also show a pattern of increased severity and decreased response to typical treatment.
Lisa Johns, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, compared the initial symptoms of this canine respiratory illness to the symptoms of “kennel cough,” as the two resemble each other at first.
Initial symptoms to watch for include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, discharge from the eyes, loss of appetite and decreased energy levels.
“The greatest concern with this new virus is that it can rapidly progress into pneumonia and is not responding to typical treatments in an anticipated way,” Torres said.
In rare cases, once the illness has developed into pneumonia, patients quickly progress from pneumonia to death, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s website.
“If you notice that your dog is displaying any of the symptoms, please call your veterinarian immediately or take your dog to an emergency hospital as soon as possible,” Johns said.
Maggie Baldwin, state veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, also said that early diagnostics might help to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
The illness is currently being treated with supportive care and, if indicated, antibiotics to treat an underlying bacterial infection.
The disease outbreak has been called “unusual” and “mysterious” because much about the situation is still unknown.
“This canine respiratory illness is concerning because there is currently not a lot of information on the virus, and the symptoms can become severe if left untreated,” Johns said. “We are speaking with colleagues in the industry to learn what we can about the illness and help prevent the spread, when possible.”
The origin and timeline of the outbreak is currently unclear, but Baldwin said that the Colorado Department of Agriculture began to receive an influx of veterinarians looking for information about the issue in early November.
Baldwin also said the Colorado Department of Agriculture currently does not track case numbers in Colorado, so it’s difficult to say how the prevalence of the illness in the state is changing.
Another major uncertainty is whether the illness is a novel virus, or a current recognized respiratory disease.
With the underlying cause of the outbreak still uncertain, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has partnered with Colorado State University to work with veterinary clinics across the state in hopes of finding a cause.
Meanwhile, veterinary professionals advise pet parents to avoid unnecessary interactions with other dogs, as the illness spreads through dog-to-dog contact and is not known to spread among other species at this time.
“It is best to avoid dark parks, day cares, and pet stores where many dogs may frequent,” Torres said. “All veterinary facilities and grooming facilities are practicing increased sanitation and do not necessarily need to be avoided.”
Experts also encourage pet parents to consider vaccinating their pets.
“Your dog could be at a higher risk if they are not up to date on all of their vaccinations,” Johns said. “Vaccinations are the best prevention tool, but they only work if your pet is vaccinated before potentially being exposed to the virus.”
Torres said that although standard vaccines such as those given for Bordetella and canine influenza might not directly prevent this issue, they will provide an immunity to the most common respiratory diseases, which could provide some protection for the new outbreak.
Regular updates about the illness and research findings can be found on the Colorado Department of Agriculture website at https://ag.colorado.gov.