Alaska’s top veterinarian warns of respiratory illness that’s killed several Lower 48 dogs

A woman in a yellow jacket walks her dog in the snow.
Denise Saigh, and her dog Nanook, enjoy a walk in the fresh snow at Goose Lake Park in Anchorage on Monday, November 6, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s top veterinarian is seeking information from clinics and pet owners in the state on any signs of a mysterious respiratory illness affecting dogs across the Lower 48.

More than a dozen states, including several in the Pacific Northwest, are reporting outbreaks of a new respiratory illness similar to kennel cough. It’s been linked to several dog deaths.

State veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach said, based on reports he’s seen, the illness initially starts with some sort of cough.

“That progresses then to, in several cases, to a severe pneumonia, or a chronic cough and upper respiratory problems that just persist for several weeks and doesn’t seem to be very responsive to the different treatments that have been used,” Gerlach said.

There have been increases in canine respiratory illness cases at a clinic in Southeast Alaska and another in Southcentral, but there’s no indication yet those were due to the mystery illness raising alarms in the Lower 48, Gerlach said.

In a letter to veterinarians statewide, Gerlach asked that clinics be on the lookout for a number of symptoms, including chronic pneumonia that doesn’t respond to antibiotics or throat inflammation lasting longer than six to eight weeks.

“Because of our small office, we really rely on veterinarians in the field to go ahead and help us with our disease surveillance and appreciate all the work that they do to keep our animals healthy,” Gerlach said.

As for dog owners, Gerlach advises they bring their dog to a veterinarian if they show signs of a prolonged cough or respiratory issue, and to try to keep their dog away from unfamiliar pets and groomers.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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