Deadly dog illness has Utah pet parents and businesses taking extra precautions

Nov 22, 2023, 11:06 PM | Updated: 11:09 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A deadly mystery illness in dogs is worrying Utah pet owners and boarding businesses, especially with families boarding their dogs over the upcoming holidays.

The illness hasn’t made its way to Utah, but the outbreak has hit other states on the West Coast. Local veterinarians are keeping a close eye on the Wasatch Front.

Before some people departed for the Thanksgiving holiday Wednesday, they first stopped at The Dog Lodge in Midvale to drop their dogs off.

As their pups play in the boarding facility without a care of their own, the protocols at The Dog Lodge are anything but carefree.

“My worry is, the dogs getting sick, the dogs dying,” said owner Christine Peterson.

She’s been reading up on a mystery K9 respiratory illness leading to outbreaks and deaths in other states. It appears to be spread through dog-to-dog contact and is resistant to treatment like antibiotics.

“This one is a little more dangerous, in that it’s going right into pneumonia in a lot of cases,” Peterson explained, of what she’s been seeing.

The sickness is highly contagious and has, in some cases, become fatal.

So far, Peterson has been relieved to see the illness is not in Utah yet, but she worries about it making its way here.

Many dog owners share her fear and have been calling vet clinics like MedVet in Salt Lake City.

“Most of our clients are wondering what this disease complex is, what could be causing it, what could they do for their pets to prevent it,” said Medical Director Jonathan Congdon.

He explained that Oregon State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory researchers have been working daily to diagnose the illness. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that Oregon has seen at least 200 case reports.

Congdon described how researchers can’t figure out the specific bacteria or virus causing it, and they’re seeing three different kinds of distributions of cases.

First, he said, dogs develop a chronic cough over six to eight weeks that don’t seem responsive to antibiotics. Then, there’s a second category of dogs that develop chronic pneumonia that again don’t respond to antibiotics, he said.

“Then the third ones, which are the most concerning, are the acute sort of fulminant, aggressive cases of pneumonia that can rapidly be fatal,” he said.

Symptoms of the respiratory illness, Congdon said, include cough, nasal discharge, eye discharge, lethargy, and lack of eating.

To help prevent sickness, he urged dog owners to make sure their pups get all available vaccines against respiratory illnesses. He also pointed out that it takes two weeks for vaccines to reach full efficacy, so it’s a good idea to keep a dog away from other dogs during that two-week period after receiving a vaccine.

Just like with humans, he said dogs appearing sick or showing symptoms need to stay home and isolate from other dogs. This may include canceling plans and not boarding a dog who has been ill.

Dog owners also need to stay vigilant when out and about at places like dog parks, and watch out for other dogs that appear sick.

“Being a smart consumer when it comes to where we’re taking our pets, whether it’s to family, whether it’s to boarding facilities, asking the right questions about cleaning and decontamination and vaccination,” Congdon said.

At The Dog Lodge, Peterson said she spoke with three veterinarians, including one in Colorado, and has implemented additional policies to avoid K9 illness beyond what they were already doing.

She said they clean and swap out water every 20 minutes.

“We ordered a special cleaner, after talking to people in Colorado and how they’re dealing with it,” she said.

They’ve added additional vaccination requirements and will check every dog for symptoms upon arrival and throughout their stay.

The Dog Lodge is also selective about the dogs they take in during the holidays.

“We’re not going to allow boarding through the holidays from places like Oregon with the highest number of illnesses,” she said.

Peterson and Congdon said people need to be cautious, but they don’t need to panic.

“We just want to be prepared,” she said. “As prepared as we can be.”

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Deadly dog illness has Utah pet parents and businesses taking extra precautions