Mystery dog illness: Symptoms and what to do if your dog gets sick

Cute puppy lying on sofa
What is the so called ‘mystery dog illness’? (Picture: Getty)

Fun, loyal and friendly, our pet dogs often become fully-fledged members of our families.

So even the mere thought of our beloved pup getting sick is just too unpleasant to consider.

Of course, our love for our canine companions makes it very, very difficult not to freak out when news of a ‘mystery dog illness ’ starts sweeping across the internet.

With reports of a rise in cases of acute gastrointestinal (GI) disease in dogs in parts of England still coming, here’s what you actually need to know about the current situation.

Make your own pill pockets when you need to feed your dog some medicine.

Where has the mystery dog illness been found in the UK?

Currently, the situation largely seems to be affecting dogs in Yorkshire. Dog owners in North Yorkshire, as well as Leeds, Sheffield, Bridlington and York, have all reported their pets falling ill with gastroenteritis-like symptoms. Liverpool University’s Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) has said it is premature to point to any possible causes, and refers to the illness as a ‘GI disease’. On January 27, it reported that the increase in cases over a three-week period now amounted to an ‘outbreak’ in Yorkshire. Since then, Yorkshire vet Martin Paterson told YorkshireLive that some dogs with these symptoms are testing positive for parvovirus – with one Bridlington woman mourning the loss of her cocker spaniel pup .

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Having a dog in the house means more bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found “dog-related biodiversity” is especially high on pillowcases.) In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people with no pets.

Concerns were first raised on social media in early January, when as many as 150 dogs became sick – and it was suspected that the bug had something to do with local beaches.

Dr Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), addressed the case rise on January 14.
Senior black labrador relaxing on armchair
Understandably, pet owners are concerned about the mystery GI illness (Picture: Getty)
She said in a BVA blog post: ‘We are aware of a recent spike in cases of dogs falling ill from gastroenteritis-like symptoms in several parts of Yorkshire and North East England.

‘Vets see gastroenteritis cases relatively commonly in practice, but numbers seem to be increasing and more widespread than usual.

Help Them Adapt to New Environments. “The only thing that likes change is a four-week-old baby in a wet diaper.” Though puppies and kittens are easygoing, mature pets often need guidance transitioning into new spaces. Dr. Becker advises introducing them slowly. “Don’t just dump them in a new house and hope for the best.” Pheromone sprays are handy for making strange houses more inviting. “Cats,” notes Dr. Becker, exist as both predator and prey, and in predator mode, they need vertical surfaces like climbing towers to feel safe.”

‘At this time, we can’t speculate on what might be causing the symptoms, and there is currently no evidence to suggest a direct link between the illness and the dogs visiting the beaches.

‘We’ve heard reports from vets in the area who are really far inland and they are also seeing an increase in these kinds of cases in dogs that have never been to the beach, so I’m not sure yet if we have enough information to make that link.’

By January 18, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had tested the beaches in question – with anxious pet owners believing a virus was instead spreading on land .

Research what type of pet is best suited for your family’s personality and lifestyle. Dogs require more attention, time and energy than cats do, so if you don’t enjoy walks or hikes in the outdoors, or can’t imagine getting up on cold winter mornings to take your pet out to potty, a cat may be more your style.

It’s worth noting that cases of gastrointestinal illnesses in dogs tend to spike during winter, especially in January.

And that currently, SAVSNET data shows nowhere else in the UK is experiencing a national outbreak.

That said, there have been national outbreaks out of GI disease in dogs in the past. From January to May 2020, canine enteric coronavirus (CECoV) caused illness across the country.

So, while it’s important not to jump to conclusions, it’s certainly useful to keep an eye out for unusual symptoms.

Express yourself. Dogs’ ears are extremely expressive. It’s no wonder! There are more than a dozen separate muscles that control a dog’s ear movements.

Vet holding dog on table in veterinary surgery
What symptoms should you look out for? (Picture: Getty)

What are the symptoms of the mystery dog illness?

So far, the symptoms being described include:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness.

You should also keep an eye out for loss of appetite, lack of interest in exercise, and any blood in your dog’s stool, too.

Instances of GI disease in dogs are typically fairly mild. SAVSNET confirms: ‘Thankfully affected dogs usually make a full recovery with appropriate care. There is no known risk to people.’

In rare cases, dogs may become so dehydrated that they need to be put on a drip to increase their fluid intake. At which point, your pup might need to head to a vet hospital.

You should never physically punish your pet. It brings the animal pain and fear, and it gains you nothing. It’s a lose-lose situation. Please don’t do it.

Only in extremely rare cases can the illness cause haemorrhaging.

Dalmatian dog running through a field
Dogs should recover well from mild cases of GI disease (Picture: Getty)

What should you do if your dog is unwell?

If your pet gets sick or shows any of the above (or other unusual) symptoms, contact your vet ASAP. Dr Shotton concurred: ‘Our advice to concerned owners is to contact their local vet for prompt treatment if their dog shows any signs of illness, such as vomiting and diarrhoea.’

While SAVSNET says: ‘If you are an owner concerned about the health of your pet, then please contact your own veterinary surgeon who is best placed to offer advice, and treatment if necessary.

An inexpensive and easy summer treat for dogs: Cut up apples in chicken broth and freeze in an ice cube tray.

‘Regardless of whether the pattern of current disease is normal or not, if your dog does have vomit and/or diarrhoea, it makes sense to keep it away from other dogs (isolate) at least whilst it is ill and preferably a few days longer just in case it is infectious.

‘And if your dog does defecate or vomit in a public place, then it is even more important to clear up after them, washing your own hands carefully afterwards.’

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