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Experts working to understand canine respiratory illness

A thick-haired, short-eared dog with a black coat is seen sitting on a floor.
Steve Jackson, SPR News

The Washington Department of Agriculture’s head veterinary officer is cautious in referring to an illness affecting dogs as something new.

An apparently new type of illness in dogs began turning up in August. It's similar to what's called “kennel cough." Cases have been recorded in at least fifteen states, USA Today reported, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The number of dogs affected is unknown, but the American Veterinary Medical Association said this week 200 cases have been reported in Oregon alone.

The illness can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis in canines, and in some cases the medications used to treat kennel cough don’t help.

Dr. Amber Idle, the Washington State Veterinarian, said it hasn’t been proven that the disease is actually new.

There are three possibilities, according to Idle: it could be kennel cough, or the illness is circulating more widely because fewer dogs are vaccinated, or it actually is a new virus or infection.

“We're seeing dogs that have disease that lasts longer, or it's more serious, or it's taking them longer to recover," Idle said. "I'm not sure it's really mysterious, but whatever it is causing the problem, likely something common, it's exhibiting itself in a way we don't expect.”

There have been no reports of direct deaths from the illness in Washington, Idle said, but some dogs with pre-existing conditions have succumbed.

She recommends dog owners who notice symptoms such as cough, runny nose or lethargy, to take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Owners should also make sure their dogs are up to date on annual vaccinations even if they are not sick.

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Spokane Public Radio's Brandon Hollingsworth contributed to this report.