With over a dozen states across the U.S. reporting cases of an unknown respiratory illness in their canine population, veterinarians are desperately trying to find treatments that may prevent more deaths.
Symptoms of the unknown illness start like known canine infections such as kennel cough and strep zoo. Continuous coughing and a runny nose are followed by a loss of appetite, lack of energy and sometimes a low fever. The symptoms can last weeks and sometimes months, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which has been monitoring hotspots of cases across the state since August.
Where the illness takes a scary turn is the development of pneumonia that won’t respond to antibiotics and can be deadly for dogs in as little as 24 hours.
It is hard to treat an illness if you don’t know what’s causing it or what it even is. But that isn’t stopping some veterinarians from trying.
Most dog owners with sick pets said their veterinarians have prescribed many of the same medications used to treat kennel cough, even though the illness is not kennel cough.
The most common prescriptions have been antibiotics in tablet form like doxycycline and amoxicillin, which may sound familiar because they are often prescribed to humans as well. Other antibiotics being recommended by vets are enrofloxacin and clindamycin, which are used to treat bacterial infections and wounds, respectively, according to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA).
Recently, vets have been prescribing a very potent, broad-spectrum antibiotic called chloramphenicol. It’s something that is only being used in severe cases of the unknown respiratory illness, experts say. One reason for extra caution in its use is that it can cause bone marrow suppression in dogs, which means their bone marrow stops making enough blood cells or platelets. It should not be prescribed to dogs with blood disorders, such as anemia, or liver or kidney disease, VCA said.
The other concern with chloramphenicol is its toxicity to humans, experts tell Scripps News. According to VCA, gloves must be worn when handling the medication and it should never be crushed or cut because the powder it creates can become airborne and then unintentionally inhaled. Even if your dog vomits after consuming the drug, you have to make sure you wear gloves while cleaning it up, VCA said.
Vets have also prescribed expectorant cough tablets to help loosen the mucus in sick dogs, and some are using oxygen chambers and nebulizers to provide some relief, dog owners have said.
There has also been a report from CBS-affiliate KCCI about a veterinarian in Iowa using the brand-name drug Paxlovid created for COVID-19 as a treatment for dogs with this mystery respiratory illness. But experts have been clear, this infection is not COVID-19 and Paxlovid was not developed to treat a bacterial infection, which is what this illness appears to be.
No matter the treatment recommendations, veterinarians and experts have all said to make sure your dogs are up to date on their vaccinations. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)has said that even though there is no vaccine for this unknown illness, maintaining your dog’s overall health can support their immune systems.
As of Dec. 4, cases of the illness have been officially and anecdotally reported in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Rhode Island, the AVMA said. There are some dog owners and veterinarians who believe there may be cases of the illness starting to pop up in Missouri, Montana and Virginia.
The illness appears to be spread through dog-to-dog contact in social settings like dog parks and kennels. Experts have said at this time, it is best to keep your dogs home and not to travel with them during the holidays.
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