JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Despite national warnings about a mystery respiratory illness affecting canines across a dozen states, many Northeast Florida residents said they haven’t heard anything about the highly contagious illness that has spread to 14 states including Florida and Georgia.
Pet owners at the John Gorrie Dog Park in Five Points said they were clueless about the illness.
It was Laurel Daughterty’s first time hearing about it.
“It’s concerning. I will think before I bring her again and try to keep up with it and make sure it’s not an issue moving forward,” she said.
Veterinarian Dr. Cameron Jones said the illness may not be as mysterious as some think because of testing.
“We have respiratory outbreaks from time to time and it’s often challenging to know if something is new or if there is just an increase in the number of cases of a known pathogen,” Jones said.
Since it’s a respiratory illness, sick dogs can transmit it by being in close contact with other dogs. People can also transmit the germs from a sick dog to a healthy dog, so handwashing is important.
Natalie Riley was also unaware of the mystery illness. She said a year ago in Utah, her pet got sick from a bad case of dog flu, but researchers don’t consider this current mysterious and transmittable illness to be the same as the flu.
“They’re like your baby. You want to do everything you can to protect them. Hopefully, he won’t get it,” Riley said.
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Although researchers have yet to figure out what causes the illness, they urge dog owners to make sure their pet is fully vaccinated, especially against kennel cough.
Symptoms include lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, coughing, nasal and eye discharge, and respiratory distress.
They also suggest getting your pet the canine flu vaccination. Although current vaccinations do not prevent your dog from contracting the mystery illness, researchers believe those vaccinations may decrease the effects.
Jones said she recently treated two severe cases of the illness in St. Augustine. She describes them as pneumonia-like cases. One of the cases involved a dog with a short nose.
“Dogs with shorter noses are more susceptible to pneumonia and respiratory infections. So, in times when there is an outbreak of a respiratory infection, the Frenchies, pugs, and little-short-nose dogs are going to be susceptible to that,” Jones said.
Jones said it’s unclear if this mystery illness is something like a flu virus that has mutated or a type of bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics. She said to figure that out, vets need to be able to catch the infection when it’s active.
“The test isn’t good after they have been sick because the organism moves. It starts in the nose, goes to the throat, and then goes to the lungs. If you’re swabbing a nose on day seven, it’s not in the nose anymore. It’s in the lungs,” Jones said,
If you absolutely must take your dog to a boarder or groomer, make sure they only accept vaccinated dogs. Experts also say you should ask the border or groomer how they verify the dogs are vaccinated.
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