Respiratory Illness and Dog BoardingBy glencadia2
As you may have read, an unidentified disease or diseases affecting dogs has been reported in four states, not including New York at this time. Little is known about the condition.
Given what we know now, we should all probably avoid overreacting but try to get ahead of what we can do now. We could be dealing with a new strain of a known disease, something new, or even possibly statistical noise and there is no new disease or condition at all.
Here is what seems to be the case:
• Infected dogs develop a cough, fever, lethargy, and intermittent loss of appetite.
• As with kennel cough and many other communicable diseases in humans and other animals, including dogs, older and weaker individuals are more vulnerable. In the few identified cases for this disease, that seems to be the case. Most individuals infected seem to recover.
• So far, with some 200 million dogs in the United States, four may have died of the disease, none locally.
Here is what our plan is:
• Anyone with a dog showing the symptoms above should avoid sending their dog to camp.
• Staff here will be on the lookout for any issues and we will be proactive about isolating anyone who seems infected.
• We’ll keep an eye out for new information.
Having worked with dog boarding for 18 years here are some points that spring to mind:
• We should avoid panicking and overreacting.
• Communication between owners and us here is critical.
• The symptoms described can be a little vague and apply to many diseases. Also, as is often the case with dogs, something can be significant or fairly benign and it can be hard to tell the difference.
• Glencadia is not like a traditional kennel. The dogs are outside much of the day – although usually together. Because we leave doors open in all but the worst weather and have a large space inside, we may have some advantages in terms of disease spread.
We don’t really know what kind of disease this new condition may be, if any. We don’t know how it really is transmitted. We don’t know if there are any cases in New York. We don’t know how dangerous it might be.
We would like to keep infections rare and avoid any dogs getting sick. Here is a quote based on the analysis of the vet who is one of the first to report the disease: “They spent time in places with a high concentration of dogs.” While Glencadia is a social boarding facility and there are times when the dogs are concentrated in a small area, the overall concentration of the dogs on 20 acres is probably lower than on the average New York City block. However, we do not generally distribute the dogs evenly across the available land, although we do have plenty of room and buildings to separate dogs as needed.
For now, we should watch for symptoms here and at home.
On any issue, the media can sometimes get ahead of the science and create a perception that a condition exists or is serious before we really know what is going on. To this day, for example, Toyota does not believe there was anything wrong with their cars that caused them to accelerate and crash. Rather, according to Malcomb Gladwell, there are a few cases where drivers mistake the accelerator for the brake and crash with any cars, and from a huge population of million cars and hundreds of thousands of accidents, a few incidents can appear to represent a pattern that might not exist. Or a few cases, like COVID, there really is something going on.
Another point to consider is that dogs, unlike people, do not travel frequently. If the same condition is really appearing in states that are far away, that might suggest something about the transmission vector or the pattern of people traveling long distances with dogs. However, because dogs are regional, they are much less susceptible to a pandemic or epidemic. Diseases would spread more slowly and die out in regions without moving to regions, as many human diseases did prior to globalization. If a dog disease raced ahead as COVID did among people, I would be surprised and would wonder about the transmission vector being exclusively dog to dog, as that would seem unlikely.
In the 18 years Glencadia has been operating, we have only experienced a few outbreaks of communicable diseases, and none of these were serious issues, fortunately. When we had something like kennel cough spread about a dozen years ago, the vaccine did not seem to prevent the spread of the disease, which was pretty mild and all dogs recovered. I wondered at the time if the Bordatella vaccine was updated for new strains. Perhaps so, as we have not had anything like that again. Maybe that incident long ago was a bout of canine flu before that was well known. In any event, in that earlier incident separating dogs and communication with owners worked. About two years ago we noticed some kind of hot spot skin infection on dogs’ feet in the fall. This was probably due to excessive rain and some kind of fungus or bacteria in the environment that subsequently disappeared, the cause was never identified.
There was a bit of a mania about toxic algae at one time. We fielded many inquiries with people worried about our pond, which was green. However, our pond at the time had pondweed, not algae. Other than the color, there was no reason to be concerned. Here is my blog post from that time. The DEC explained the situation, we learned what to look for, and there was never any problem with toxic algae at Glencadia. We have had almost no diseases spread here, no major incidents of any kind in 18 years and this latest dust-up may join those previous incidents in a long line of alarmism. Canine flu showed up in the world and is still out there but has not been an issue here. The dogs come, they play, they have fun and go home healthy and happy. That’s the pattern for 50,000-plus boarding stays and there is no reason not to expect that definite pattern to hold.
So in conclusion, we have a very tiny pool of possible infections. We have a population of animals that do not travel extensively and frequently between regions, giving us some breathing room to wait and see. We have a possible disease that may significantly affect a proportion of the infected population. We have a few cues to look for.
We’ll keep an eye on the situation and watch for anything here… other than that, it’s too early to rip up plans or panic. Thanks for reading.