Mystery illness affecting dogs in the U.S. isn't in Alberta — but dog owners still encouraged to stay safe

A mystery dog illness that has affected hundreds of dogs in the U.S. is still in the early stages of investigation and hasn't yet shown up on this side of the border, say local veterinarians. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)
A mystery dog illness that has affected hundreds of dogs in the U.S. is still in the early stages of investigation and hasn't yet shown up on this side of the border, say local veterinarians. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of dogs in the U.S. are suffering from an unidentified respiratory sickness, causing local veterinarians and pooch pathologists to keep an eye on the situation south of the border.

Daniel Joffe is a Calgary veterinarian and vice-president of medical operations with animal hospital network, VCA Canada.

"Dogs and cats get upper respiratory infections just like people do," Joffe told CBC News, adding that the majority of these infections occur in fall and winter.

Joffe says that canine respiratory infections — known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), or often more popularly referred to as "kennel cough" — are always present and always being monitored by experts.

"In Canada, knock on wood, [CIRDC] has not become any worse or more serious than it has been at any other time."

But when it comes to the mystery dog illness, Joffe says that what's being reported in the U.S. is not what veterinarians typically see going around this time of year. He says the sickness seems to have popped up across multiple states, and experts don't think it's a typical case of canine flu.

"Multiple labs have been looking into it and nobody has been able to find a definitive answer," he said, adding that no such cases have appeared so far in Canada.

"But we're keeping our eyes and ears open now."

But before Canadian dog owners start panicking, the mystery dog illness is still in the early stages of investigation, and its cause remains undetermined.

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) said in a statement that reports of sickness in the U.S. have been noted, but the organization isn't currently aren't aware of any "canine respiratory outbreaks" within the province.

While ABVMA has no data on how many American dogs have been infected, the statement also noted that respiratory illnesses in dogs are common — these "can occur in clusters, and can have various underlying contagious and non-contagious causes."

Dayna Goldsmith, a veterinary pathologist researching new animal illnesses with the University of Calgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, says that the COVID-19 pandemic likely means people are paying more attention to infectious diseases.

"A lot of cases that people are assuming are associated with this mystery disease could be not that disease because respiratory disease in general in dogs is quite common," she said.

Still, Goldsmith is cautiously keeping track of information as it develops.

"It's unlikely at this moment to be this unknown disease since we haven't been seeing it here, but there still are a lot of other more common respiratory pathogens that dogs can get," she said.

"If [your pets are] getting sick, please take them to the clinic and get them checked out."

Advice for pet parents

For dog owners who are worried about the mystery illness making its way into Canada from the U.S., the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) —  the federal department responsible for regulating and establishing requirements for domestic dogs entering the country — said in a statement that any dogs who are showing symptoms of illness can be refused entry into Canada.

"Prior to travelling with a dog, the CFIA recommends owners talk to their veterinarian about the risks of travelling and to confirm that their dog is healthy and fit for travel," reads the statement.

And veterinarian Joffe says that just as sick kids stay home from school, pets should, too.

"If pets are coughing and have a runny nose or runny eyes, they should not go to the dog park, they should not go to doggy daycare. We should keep them at home."

Joffe says that being aware of pet illness and keeping other pets safe is all part of being a good pet parent.

So when it comes to this mystery illness, what should dog owners do?

The ABVMA's statement also included a list of advice, including:

  • Limit your dog's contact with other dogs, especially those who are sick or with whom your pet is unfamiliar.

  • If your dog is sick, contact your veterinarian and don't let it mingle with other pets.

  • Talk to your veterinarian to learn more about respiratory disease vaccinations.

  • And, of course, "don't panic."