A New Disease Syndrome!
A new disease syndrome in dogs has recently emerged in the United States. Cases have shown up in several states and it’s likely to spread quickly. The illness is characterized by a severe, hacking cough much like Kennel cough but much more serious. Infected dogs also tend to run a fever and may have nasal or eye discharge and may show signs of low oxygen like cyanosis (blue gums and tongue) and lethargy. The disease often quickly progresses to pneumonia and has a very high fatality rate.
What Causes it & Where Did It Come From?
Researchers haven’t yet identified a causative agent and labs are vigorously looking for the culprit. I received an email this morning from the State Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab requesting that I (and every other veterinarian in the country) send them tissue samples (lung, tonsil or lymph node) or swabs from infected dogs for analysis. What does that mean? It means it’s a real problem and not just some nonsense that bloggers and YouTubers are blathering about.
So, how does this sort of thing happen? Well…It just does. Microorganisms like bacteria and viruses reproduce at an astounding rate. Occasionally, one of those babies has a mutation that is very successful. In the 1970s, a new disease called canine parvovirus exploded onto the scene. Within a couple of years of its appearance it was killing millions of dogs worldwide. There were several other animal species that had their own versions of parvovirus (mink, pigs, etc…). The canine parvo is believed to have been a mutation of a cat parvovirus called feline panleukopenia. Another spontaneous mutation was canine influenza virus (H3N2) which showed up in Chicago in 2015. That virus likely started as a horse influenza and mutated so that it could infect dogs. The first cases were in South Korea and China. It came to the United States after a large dog show in Chicago. Within months, it was in every state in the nation.
This new situation is a bit different. In the canine parvo and canine influenza cases, the causative organism was identified very quickly. This new syndrome hasn’t been as easy to sort out. There certainly is a causative agent because the syndrome is highly contagious. So, something is being transmitted. I used to work at the Utah State Animal Disease diagnostic lab doing microbiology…so I have some experience with isolating and identifying bacteria and viruses. If this were just a bacterial pathogen, chances are good that they’d have found the bug quickly. If it’s a spirochete or Mycoplasma or some other more unusual microbe, it might take a bit longer to find…but not much. Viruses are a little harder to isolate and identify but even so, it shouldn’t take long.
So why can’t the researchers find anything yet? Well there are a couple of possibilities. One is that it’s something completely new and they don’t have a good test to identify it yet. Another possibility is that it’s an organism that is very short lived that does it’s damage quickly and then expires leaving little or nothing for scientists to find. The third and most likely possibility, in my opinion, is that it’s not a single organism. Sometimes the presence of one microorganism facilitates the ability of another to do damage. For example, people don’t usually die of the AIDS virus. They typically die of some other infection or cancer that the AIDS virus kept their immune system from fighting. Many of the dogs dying of this new syndrome are contracting a serious pneumonia and dying of that. Pneumonia is often caused by opportunistic, secondary infections that have nothing to do with the original pathogen that weakened resistance or stressed the lung tissues initially. For example, you get a little bronchitis from one bug and then catch pneumonia from a different one because you were worn out by the bronchitis.
What Can We Do?
Well let’s start with prevention. We know it’s contagious. So, the best way to avoid it is to keep your dog away from other dogs. Dog parks, groomers, boarding facilities and even veterinary clinics are places that your dog might meet lots of other dogs. We don’t know if it’s spread by direct contact or if it’s airborne but, either way, minimal exposure to other unknown dogs is a good idea. Keeping your dog vaccinated against kennel cough, canine influenza and parainfluenza (parainfluenza is usually in the Distemper/parvo shot) may also be helpful. None of those diseases cause this syndrome but catching any of them may weaken the dog enough to allow this new bug to get an easier foothold. I know that some folks have strong feelings about vaccines. And I think some of those feelings are justified. For humans, the risk of catching or experiencing the disease prevented by the vaccine is sometimes less severe than the possible risk of the vaccine itself. But humans don’t go around licking the noses and sniffing the cabooses of people they don’t know and exploring everything in the world with their mouth. Get your dog his shots.
What About Herbs? Will Those Help?
They might help a lot. And, in fact, if my dog were to come down with this syndrome, that’s what I would use. Because it’s contagious, we can know that this disease is caused by a microorganism of some kind (or of more than one kind). So, what I would do is approach it from several angles. The first thing I’d do is stimulate and support the dog’s immune system (have a look at the herbs in the Immunity Support formula). I’d also use some herbs that have good antiviral activity (see the Shoofloo formula) and since it could also be a bacterial pathogen (or one of the bugs like that) I’d use some antibiotic herbs as well (have a look at the BugBuster formula’s herbs). If the dog was sick I’d use all three of those several times a day. If the dog was exposed to sick dogs I’d do the same thing.
The easiest way to get herbs into a dog is by mixing the powder with a little wet food. Tinctures are fine as well. Dosing instructions are in the info & dosing tab of each product page of Homegrownherbalist.net. All of the herbs above (and several others) are in the Livestock Farmacy Kit.
You could also use herbs for the other symptoms of respiratory disease the dog may experience. There are herbs to help with coughs (Respiratory COF), excess mucus (Respiratory EXP), opening the airways (Respiratory AZMA) and several other respiratory issues. Have a look at the formulas in the Respiratory Preparedness Kit. There’s also a link on that page to a downloadable document explaining my various respiratory formulas and how I use them. All of the formulas in that kit are safe for dogs. I’ve been using them for years.
So there you have it. As more information becomes available, I’ll keep you posted. But regardless of what pathogen they identify, I doubt very much that my approach would change. Unless they find it’s being caused by grumpy alien cats from outer space shooting our dogs with an infecto-matic ray gun from their space ship. I don’t have a good herb for that.
If you’d like to learn more about herbal medicine from a crazy veterinarian and naturopath that understands disease processes and how herbs interact with humans and critters and their various ills, have a look at the HomeGrown Herbalist School of Botanical Medicine. We’d love to have you join us.