The “Mystery” Respiratory Illness In Dogs

yorkie sick patient

I was at the vet with one of my Yorkies yesterday and overheard the receptionist on the phone. The caller was clearly concerned about coming inside and I heard them being told that the doctor could not examine their pet in the parking lot but they were welcome to wait in their car until the vet was ready to see them.

At first, I thought the client was concerned about their own health but then I realized they were concerned enough about their dog catching the mystery respiratory illness that’s going around right now that they made that call, so I think it’s time for me to address it.

Since the veterinary community doesn’t know exactly what it is (virus? bacteria? something else?) or have an agreed-upon treatment protocol, I am not going to pretend I know either. What I do want to talk about is what it is, what to look for, the precautions I am taking, and what you can do too.


In case you haven’t heard, there is a highly contagious, potentially fatal respiratory illness going around in dogs. Since scientists haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is, it has become known as “The Mystery Illness” in dogs. It has been reported in over 14 states so far but with so many families traveling with their dogs this holiday season it will probably spread to even more.


I have watched A LOT of videos of what the cough sounds like and I have to admit that if I heard one of my Yorkies making some of those sounds I would not have recognized it as a cough. To me it sounded more like they were clearing their throats. There are a ton of videos online showing the cough and I highly recommend that you watch at least a few so you recognize it if you hear it.

Other symptoms are fatigue, sneezing, trouble breathing, and discharge from the eyes and / or nose.

If symptoms develop, isolate the sick dog from your other pets and call the vet immediately. I’m serious. DO NOT WAIT!!! In every instance I’ve read about the key to a successful outcome is fast medical intervention.


Make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccinations. Being vaccinated won’t protect your Yorkie from getting the mystery illness; it makes it less likely that your pup has another illness like Bordetella (Kennel Cough) or Canine Influenza. This knowledge can lead to faster diagnosis and treatment of the mystery illness.

The one thing we do know for sure is that this illness is highly contagious. Because of that you should avoid taking your dog anywhere they would have contact with other dogs. This includes doggy day care, boarding facilities, dog parks, etc. You should also not let your pup greet other dogs while out on their walks.


Since our Yorkies require regular grooming before your next appointment you will want to know ….

  • Does your groomer require their clients be vaccinated?
  • Are they sanitizing tables, cages, and tools between clients?
  • Do they have an air filtration system?
  • Is the grooming salon “cage free” or are dogs kept separated in kennels?

Ideally, you would want the first appointment of the day when fewer other pets have been in the shop that day.


I think that every puppy can benefit from going to a puppy training class BUT (you knew there was a “but” didn’t you?) before attending you should find out:

  • Are vaccines required prior to enrollment?
  • Is the area being sanitized before and after each class?
  • Are communal water bowls being used? (they should not be)
  • Are puppies allowed to play with each other before, during or after class? If they are, I would not allow my pup to participate.

Weather permitting, it would be ideal if you could find an outdoor class.


This one is tricky since you want to keep up routine health care but the vet’s office is where you are most likely to encounter sick pets. Before your next appointment ask:

  • What screening process your vets office is using for patients coming in?
  • What is the isolation protocol for suspected contagious disease? Are these pets being brought in through a back door? Is there a separate area for examining, treating, and hospitalizing these patients?
  • What are their mitigation procedures? (is PPE being worn by staff when treating these patients? is everything that touched the patient (including stethoscopes) being disinfected?)
  • In general, do they disenfect rooms between patients?
  • How often is the waiting area cleaned?
  • Does the office have an air filtration system?

Every situation is different. Once you have the answers to these questions you can weigh the risks and benefits and decide what is right for you and your dog.


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