DENVER — Veterinarians along the Front Range are seeing more dogs with severe coughs — some even developing pneumonia and requiring hospitalization.
Veterinarians say it appears to be a novel virus, as it is infecting younger dogs and leading to longer illnesses.
Ernie, an Australian cattle dog mix that belongs to Denver7's Rob Harris, is among the many Colorado dogs currently fighting pneumonia.
Ernie's cough started roughly two weeks ago and has progressively gotten worse. He also has been lethargic.
When he started refusing food earlier this week, Harris knew it was time for Ernie to be seen by a vet.
After some pricey X-rays and blood work, it was confirmed that Ernie has pneumonia and will need two weeks of antibiotics.
"I would say [there's been] maybe a 50 percent increase in the number of coughing dogs we detect," said Dr. Amanda Cavanagh at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "We determine these are contagious dogs. They've had exposure, and they could pass it on to other dogs."
Cavanagh said the virus seems to be spreading at social places for pups, like dog parks and doggy day cares. Because it appears to be a novel virus — not unlike COVID-19 as it emerged in 2020 — it seems to be especially good at evading our pups' immune systems, making the coughs last longer. While a normal case of kennel cough might last seven to 10 days, these cases last up to three weeks or more.
"For my personal dogs, I have stopped bringing them out into the community," Cavanagh said. "Simply because I don't want a coughing dog in my house, and I definitely don't want a secondary pneumonia to treat."
For dogs that do develop pneumonia, antibiotics are often necessary to get better. Ernie, thankfully, is responding well to the treatment. Some animals, though, have had to be hospitalized and even died.
"Some of those dogs come in with a very sudden onset of the pneumonia signs, and they are very sick. They require mechanical ventilation, so a breathing tube with a machine breathing for them," Cavanagh said. "And many of those dogs are actually passing away or being euthanized because of this really severe, fast-moving, really intense pneumonia."
Cavanagh recommends all pet parents make sure their dog's vaccinations are up to date, particularly for Bordetella and canine influenza. She also recommends avoiding highly social places for the time being, such as dog parks and doggy day cares.
"I vote all dogs just stay home for the holidays, and avoid those group situations," she said.