Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are calling on UK vets to aid research into a potentially fatal, yet increasingly common bacterial pneumonia-type disease that has been increasing in the canine community over the past five years.

The RVC wants to ensure dog owners and veterinary professionals recognise the signs of Streptococcus zooepidemicus – a bacterial infection that manifests itself similarly to human Toxic Shock Syndrome, causing a severe, bloody pneumonia in dogs.
In particular, the RVC is seeking the help of UK vets who are treating affected dogs and might be able to submit swab samples to aid research.
Outbreaks in the UK are sporadic, but occur in situations where dogs mix in groups, such as in hunting and racing greyhound communities. Although rarer in family pets, researchers are still keen to highlight the signs to owners, particularly if they regularly visit rehoming or boarding kennels or attend events where large groups of animals gather.
In the early stages, signs are similar to those of kennel cough, but infected dogs rapidly become very ill and show very severe signs, with a mortality rate of up to 50% reported. It has an acute onset and, in a small proportion of cases, has been known to kill dogs within 24 hours of contracting the infection.
Researcher and veterinary pathologist Simon Priestnall said: “Although Streptococcus zooepidemicus was first identified in dogs in the 1970s, veterinarians and researchers have seen the number of cases spiral upwards over the past five years […] This suggests the bacterium may have mutated to become more virulent and contagious.”
There is currently very limited public awareness of the disease. Signs include:

  • fever – usually accompanied by sneezing and nasal discharge, which is often bloody
  • lethargy
Dr Priestnall said: “If owners notice the rapid onset of these signs, they are advised to seek veterinary help immediately. With prompt identification, medical treatment and supportive care, dogs can make a full recovery.”
Dr Priestnall and his colleagues are working alongside the Animal Health Trust and the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to investigate the pathogen and develop a test that will allow them to determine, from a nasal or throat swab, how many dogs are suffering from the disease and how many are carriers.
The hope is that by detecting patterns within the bacterial isolates or the infected dogs, they can uncover potential risk factors and limit the spread of the disease.
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