Mysterious dog illness prompts Jackson County animal shelter to close

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Nov. 24, 2023 2 p.m.

A mysterious respiratory illness spreading among dogs has forced a Southern Oregon animal shelter to temporarily close.

The Jackson County Animal Services shelter has closed to the public, including volunteers, at least through Thanksgiving weekend. It has also stopped pet adoptions until at least Dec. 5, according to Stacy Brubaker, director of Jackson County Health and Human Services, which oversees the county shelter.


About a third of the shelter’s 100 dogs appear to have respiratory illnesses. Brubaker said it’s not clear which dogs might have kennel cough — a more common respiratory disease that tends to spread in shelters and boarding facilities — or a new canine respiratory illness that has recently appeared in several states.

The closure will help shelter staff treat dogs who are ill. Brubaker said it will also help prevent spreading the new disease.

“We’re trying to be cautious, and we want to do our part to not continue the spread of it,” Brubaker said.

A dog peers out from a kennel in this file photo from 2020.

A dog peers out from a kennel in this file photo from 2020.

Elaine Thompson / AP


The new canine illness shares many symptoms with kennel cough: coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, rapid or labored breathing, lethargy, decreased appetite and fever.

The big difference is how quickly it seems to turn from a mild cough to severe pneumonia. In some cases, it has killed dogs within a couple of days. Researchers don’t know what causes this illness or how to treat it. The new illness doesn’t seem to respond to antibiotics that typically work for kennel cough.

Stopping adoptions wasn’t an easy decision, Brubaker said, especially since the shelter is at capacity. Adoptions can help make space for stay cats and dogs found around Jackson County, as well as pets that are abused or neglected and pets that are surrendered by their owners. Brubaker said she hopes the shelter could open adoptions again by early December, since more people tend to adopt pets around the holidays.

“All of us just are doing our best,” Brubaker said.

So far Oregon has detected more than 200 cases of the new canine respiratory illness. They began appearing in the state this summer, though other states like New Hampshire have been reporting cases since 2022.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is working with pathologists and virologists from state and federal veterinary laboratories — as well as the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University — to determine what could be causing the illness. The state has partnered with several emergency veterinary practices to begin widespread PCR testing on dogs to test for respiratory illnesses in order to catch it before they start showing symptoms.

Oregon and other states have sent nasal swab samples to a federal veterinary lab for further testing, which could help determine what causes the illness and potential treatments.

To prevent spreading the illness, veterinarians offer several tips, including keeping dogs updated on vaccines, reducing dogs’ exposure to other unknown dogs at events or parks, avoid communal water bowls, and reconsider boarding dogs at boarding facilities.