Michigan vets on lookout for new mysterious illness affecting dogs across the U.S.

LANSING — A mysterious illness in dogs is being tracked in more than a dozen states around the country and veterinarians in Michigan are being asked to watch out for chances to test potential cases since it has so far gone undetected here.

"There are no confirmed cases of atypical canine infectious respiratory illness in Michigan dogs," said Jennifer Holton, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

While there is still much to be learned about the disease and how it spreads, experts believe it is likely aerosolized and spread through close contact with infected dogs.

The illness, which shows similar symptoms to a normal kennel cough but is resistant to the typical treatments, has been fatal in some cases. As of Monday, the American Veterinary Medical Association has recorded cases in 14 states across the county.

Michigan officials are encouraging veterinarians to do testing, which isn't routine on dogs since the typical respiratory illnesses like kennel cough are typically "self-limiting" and in most cases don't require much medical attention, said Dr. Kimberly Dodd, a veterinarian and director of Michigan State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, in a statement.

Getting the tests could also be an additional expense of $200 to $500, depending on the tests and the veterinary clinic, said Dr. Larry Letsche, an Ann Arbor veterinarian and president of the Michigan Veterinary Medicine Association.

The testing could confirm common diseases like Bordetella (often associated with kennel cough), parainfluenza and canine flu, Letsche said. And if none of those diseases are found, it would alert veterinarians to do further testing, he said.

One of the best ways to prevent illnesses in dogs is to stay up to date on routine vaccinations, don't wait a few months after schedule to update the vaccinations either, Holton said.

Letsche said the best way he knows to prevent the illness is to make sure dogs are fully vaccinated before interacting with others, don't share food and water bowls with unknown dogs and keep your dog away from unvaccinated or sick dogs.

"And seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if any symptoms appear," he said.

The symptoms, according to state officials, include coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. The cough may continue for weeks or months and severe forms of the disease can progress to life-threatening pneumonia, according to a statement from the Michigan Agriculture and Rural Development.

Animal shelters and kennel staff are being asked to adhere to intake and vaccination protocols, to follow isolation timelines and continue with proactive cleaning.

Veterinarians who find any unusual or reportable conditions in animals should call the state department at 800-292-3939.

Letsche said he treated a dog recently who had an infection, the dog's day care program was requiring a veterinary visit before the dog could return.

"We saw him outside," Letsche said about precautions.

He said the day care center was proactive about a potential infection, which could have also come from a dog park visit, and that is something pet owners should seek out.

"I'm not recommending people to not board, but they can explore alternatives like having someone come to their house," Letsche said.

The next few weeks are historically a time when dog diseases spread more often, due to owners traveling and changing their pet's risks, he said.

"Most of the advice for this is common sense," Letsche said. "We should not panic. We need to do our due diligence. Contact a vet ASAP if there are any signs and, if they're showing signs, don't expose them to other dogs."

Contact Mike Ellis at mellis@lsj.com or 517-267-0415

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan vets on lookout for new mysterious illness affecting dogs