A Mystery Illness Is Giving Dogs in the UK Stomach Trouble

Experts suspect a coronavirus, but not the one that causes covid-19, may be to blame for the outbreak of canine vomiting and diarrhea.

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Something is causing an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness among pet dogs in the United Kingdom, veterinary experts at the University of Liverpool say. The mystery ailment is still being investigated, but it’s suspected that a coronavirus may be to blame, though not the one currently mucking things up for their human owners.

Murmurs of the outbreak began to emerge in January 2022. On social media, owners in the country increasingly reported that their dogs were coming down with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. The reports eventually attracted the attention of researchers at the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET), based at the University of Liverpool. They found that veterinarians’ offices were also seeing an increase in these sorts of cases, essentially confirming that the outbreak was real.

There was initial speculation that the illness may have been strongly linked to beaches. But SAVSNET researchers say that most sickened dogs don’t appear to have visited the beach recently, likely ruling out that connection. The outbreak seems to be based in the Northern England county of Yorkshire, though that could change. And at first glance, it appears to resemble an outbreak of severe vomiting traced back to the canine enteric coronavirus (CECoV) that affected dogs across the UK nationally from 2019 to 2020.

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Most dogs infected with CECoV typically don’t become sick, and dogs that do become sick tend to experience mild symptoms at most. The virus is highly infectious, but it’s also fragile and vulnerable to common disinfectants. CECoV isn’t thought to affect humans at all, and it’s not from the same broad group of coronaviruses as those responsible for SARS and covid-19. That said, the 2020 outbreak is thought to have been caused by a novel variant of CECoV, and at the time, veterinary experts did express concern that it could return to cause more seasonal outbreaks.

SAVSNET researchers are still saying that the cause of this latest outbreak remains unknown, though they are looking into it. Late last week, they released results from a questionnaire of owners who suspected that their dogs were part of the outbreak. The findings indicate that affected dogs have usually recovered within two weeks with no serious complications, though many have needed some added care.

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They’re continuing to ask owners with sick dogs to fill out these questionnaires and to preserve fecal samples that can be tested by their vets if possible. They also recommend that dogs should be isolated from other dogs in the household while they’re ill and for at least a few days afterward. And owners should diligently clean up their dogs’ vomit and feces, especially in public spaces, while washing their hands afterward. Any owner worried about their pooch’s health should also consult their vets for added advice.