November 29, 20223
Much remains to be discovered about the mysterious and occasionally fatal respiratory illness affecting dogs nationwide. However, two certainties have emerged: the bacteria-like organism responsible for the infections possesses a peculiar genetic makeup that is proving challenging to decipher, and as a precaution, it’s advisable to keep dogs away from large groups of other dogs. Dr. David Needle, a senior veterinary pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (NHVDL) affiliated with the University of New Hampshire, is at the forefront of comprehending this respiratory syndrome.
Dr. Needle, specializing in diagnostic and investigational pathology, has dedicated much of his clinical work to understanding the complexities of diseases. His research programs at the Hubbard Center of Genome Studies show his commitment to unraveling medical mysteries. While ongoing research aims to solve this respiratory illness, Dr. Needle aligns with veterinarians in advising pet owners to avoid exposing their dogs to other canines and social settings for now. Traveling with dogs or bringing them around family dogs during the holidays is cautioned against.
Despite not being COVID-19, the infection demands similar precautions. Dr. Needle emphasizes that measures employed for preventing COVID can be applied to dogs to safeguard them from contracting this contagious and unidentified infection.
Analyzing Respiratory Specimens
With the support of NHVDL and discussions with the state veterinarian, Dr. Needle distributed swabs to clinics and initiated sequencing. They managed to obtain 30 respiratory specimens from dogs infected with the mysterious syndrome in New Hampshire. Using metagenomic sequencing, a technique studying the entire genetic makeup of a sample, the team found no known pathogens or closely related entities.
Further analysis by graduate student Lawrence Gordon revealed a segment of DNA related to a previously undescribed bacteria in 21 of the 30 samples. This bacterial-like organism, akin to Mycoplasma, lacks a cell wall, making it naturally resistant to antibiotics. The NHVDL’s identification process has encountered challenges, as the organism cannot be cultured in a typical laboratory setting.
As NHVDL receives samples from various states, the urgency to unravel the cause of this elusive illness grows. While the team expects more samples from different regions, the genetic complexity of the infectious organism makes definitive identification challenging. Until rigorous testing is conducted, NHVDL cannot conclusively pinpoint the cause of this puzzling canine respiratory disease.
Symptoms to Look Out For
According to the AVMA, common symptoms of the respiratory illness in dogs include:
- Starts with upper respiratory symptoms such as a wet coughand/or nasal discharge. These are consistent with mild to moderate tracheobronchitis –
often these mildcases last 6-8 weeks and seem non responsive to antibiotics
- Chronic pneumonia not responsive to antibiotics.
- Acute pneumonia that quickly turns severe sometimes in as little as 24-36 hours.
- Difficulty or rapid breathing, wheezing, dehydration, fever, nasal or eye discharge, weight loss, loss of appetite and lethargy.