Early Warning Signs of the Mystery Dog Illness Sweeping the Nation, Expert Says

What starts with a cough and a runny nose could become much more serious.

The holiday season is all about spending quality time with the ones you love—and that includes our pets. For dog owners, no wintertime tradition is complete without our lovable four-legged best friends tagging along. But as you solidify plans this month, animal experts are pleading with dog owners to keep their pet's health and safety top of mind—especially if your itinerary includes traveling. They also want to make sure you know the warning signs of a deadly mystery dog illness that's been detected in multiple states.

RELATED: Mystery Dog Illness Spreading Across the U.S.—These Breeds Are Most at Risk.

Pay close attention to your dog's health, Lori Teller, DVM, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, warns CBS-affiliate KBTX. The mystery illness attacks the respiratory system, often leading canines to develop a persistent and stubborn cough, sneezing, and nasal and/or eye discharge, per the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.

While experts are still trying to determine what exactly is causing the fast-moving outbreak, Teller said two early warning signs dog owners can look out for are "a runny nose and cough." If the situation becomes more serious, your furry friend may become suddenly lethargic and uninterested in food. Sometimes, in more advanced cases, dogs might experience rugged breathing and get pneumonia as well.

Similar to the human cold, this mystery illness can be "spread through the air," Teller explained. But experts are still trying to deduce just how long the illness can linger in a specific environment.

"So this is dog to dog, your dog has to run up and start sniffing around with another dog, or if it may linger in the environment for several hours after an infected dog has been through the area, that piece we just don't know," Teller cautioned.

RELATED: 5 Best Ways to Protect Your Dog From the Deadly New Mystery Illness Spreading.

A pet owner's first line of defense should be to avoid dog parks and other social dog areas, Amanda Cavanagh, DVM, of the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, told ABC-affiliate Denver7. Similarly, if you're using a boarding facility this winter, reach out and ask what they're doing to combat the spread.

This can be tough with so many of us heading out of town for the holidays, and potentially being forced to board our pets. Aggieland Humane Society told KBTX that people need to be asking facilities questions before dropping off their pups.

"Talking to that boarding facility and asking what do they require of the patients that they have in their care if you're calling someone and they say, 'Oh, we just make sure they have a rabies [shot],' that might be a red flag because you want to make sure your pet is going somewhere that has pretty strict guidelines for parvo [and] distemper. And of course all those respiratory illnesses," Aggieland Humane Society's executive director Katrina Ross told the outlet.

As of right now, the respiratory illness has been reported in at least 14 states, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, per Reuters. If you think your dog is exhibiting symptoms, reach out to your veterinarian immediately, as early action is key.

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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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