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Veterinarians Issue Urgent Warning to Dog Owners as "Severe, Fast-Moving" Illness Spreads

If left untreated, the mystery disease can develop into a life-threatening case of pneumonia.

Unfortunately, coming down with the flu or a bad cold feels somewhat inevitable during the holidays. Coughs can be heard from a mile away, cold medicine and orange juice are flying off the shelves, and everyone is sniffling in the office. But humans aren't the only ones at risk. There's a new, unknown, and highly contagious respiratory illness that's targeting dogs, too. Some are calling it "strep zoo."

RELATED: 8 Dog Breeds With the Worst Health Problems, Vet Tech Warns.

According to Scripps News, the mysterious—and potentially deadly—canine illness is similar in symptoms to a rough case of kennel cough. The latter typically presents itself through coughing, lack of appetite, runny nose, a low-grade fever, and sluggishness.

In most cases, kennel cough will run its course in about seven to 10 days, and clear up on its own. However, a veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, such as doxycycline, if there's a chance your four-legged friend could develop a secondary bacterial infection, per Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

But this new, fast-moving illness is different than kennel cough, and can turn into a weeks-long sickness and develop into pneumonia. As with humans, pneumonia can be life-threatening to dogs if left untreated, or if it progresses.

In an interview with ABC-affiliate Denver7, Amanda Cavanagh, DVM, at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital warned that boarding facilities, dog parks, and other social dog areas can be breeding grounds for this unknown illness.

Recently, Cavanagh has seen "a 50% increase in the number of coughing dogs" at her animal hospital. That number is on the rise, and being reported throughout the U.S.

It's also not a one-size fits all illness. Dogs across the board are being affected differently. While some are able to overcome pneumonia-like illnesses, others aren't—and a more severe treatment plan must be enacted.

"Some of those dogs come in with a very sudden onset of the pneumonia signs, and they are very sick. They require mechanical ventilation, so a breathing tube with a machine breathing for them," Cavanagh told Denver7. "And many of those dogs are actually passing away or being euthanized because of this really severe, fast-moving, really intense pneumonia."

Oregon's Department of Agriculture alone has documented 200 cases of the horrible canine disease. Veterinarians in the state report that the illness is quick-acting, too, with some infected dogs dying less than a week after contracting pneumonia.

Meanwhile, The Animal Foundation in Las Vegas is dubbing the unknown illness "strep zoo," or Streptococcus zooepidemicus.

Right now, pets need their owners' watchful eye more than ever, experts say.

Vets suggest paying close attention to developing cold symptoms, including a persistent cough and loss of appetite. Also steer clear of any social doggy areas to reduce your dog's chances of infection. When in doubt, contact your vet for more information or if you're concerned.

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Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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