Scientists Finally Identify Mystery Dog Illness Sweeping America

by Britt
Photo credit: SeventyFour /

If you are a dog owner in the United States, you have likely already seen the news reports about the mystery illness responsible for the deaths of several dogs, prompting veterinary professionals to caution pet parents about taking their pets out to public spaces.

But we may finally be able to spot the light at the end of the tunnel…

Dr. David Needle, pathology section chief at the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the University of New Hampshire, reported that scientists have finally identified the cause of the illness. While this doesn’t mean that life for our dogs can return to normal immediately, it does mean that they are one step closer to finding a cure and moving past this nightmare.

The research article has yet to be published, but the team is sharing their initial findings to provide hope for pet parents and the veterinary community.

The pathogen responsible for the mystery respiratory illness is described as “a funky bacterium.” “It’s smaller than a normal bacterium in its size and in the size of its genome,” explained Needle. “Long story short, it’s a weird bacterium that can be tough to find and sequence.”

Searching for the cause of this illness wasn’t easy for researchers. Initially, there were no known bacterial, viral, or fungal pathogens, meaning they were searching blind. However, after testing 30 samples from New Hampshire, genetic material from an atypical bacterial species was discovered. The next step in understanding the cause of the illness and working towards a cure (and possible preventative) is to compare these findings to samples from dogs in other states to verify that it is, in fact, the same pathogen in all reported instances.

States with possible cases of the disease include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

One challenge faced by veterinarians is the fact there is no test to confirm that all reported cases are, in fact, the same illness.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Common symptoms resemble respiratory infections like canine influenza and kennel cough, conditions usually seen in higher numbers at this time of year. Luckily for the human members of our family, there are currently no reports of the illness being transferred to humans.

Veterinarians recommend watching out for the following symptoms:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nasal or eye discharge
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

How Can You Keep Your Dog Safe?

Until a cure has been identified, dog parents are encouraged to focus on preventative measures.

Ensure your dog’s vaccinations are current, protecting them against known respiratory problems. Avoid public spaces like dog parks, doggy daycare, and grooming establishments where dogs may be exposed to the illness. If you must go to a public space, steer clear of shared food and water dishes.

Your dog will be just as happy to spend this time playing with you as they would with another dog!

If you notice any signs of respiratory trouble or illness, don’t panic. Contact your veterinarian to share your concerns and make an appointment.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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