There have been various reports in the news and social media about a mystery illness affecting dogs, predominantly along a coast in North Yorkshire. Owners have been warned against walking their dogs along beaches in Scarborough and Saltburn. However, there is a worry that it is spreading to nearby towns like Hebden Bridge, York and Sheffield with many dogs now contracting the illness. So what is going on?

Affected dogs are suffering from sudden onset gastrointestinal upset causing vomiting and diarrhoea. In many dogs the symptoms are mild, but a small number of cases can be severely affected. Some owners are referring to the diarrhoea as looking ‘like gravy’, taking several days for their dogs to bounce back to normal.

Seasonal bouts of illness like this are not uncommon

Actually, this year is nothing that unusual – yet. The Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) reports January as being a peak time each year for gastrointestinal illness nationally in dogs. This year’s cases appear to be predominantly in the Northeast at the moment.

The cause of this year’s illness is not yet known. We don’t know if it is bacterial, viral or other. In January – May 2020 an outbreak of severe gastrointestinal disease was thought to be caused by a canine enteric coronavirus (unrelated to COVID-19) with more cases reported than in other recent years. Studies are ongoing and it is not yet clear whether this year’s illness is caused by the same virus. More samples are needed from affected animals for analysis.

The advice at present is to avoid walking on affected beaches 

But always seek veterinary advice if your dog is not well. In most cases, dogs recover well with supportive treatment, so get your dog seen sooner rather than later. To try and help stop the spread of disease keep your dog away from others if they are showing signs of ill health; and be sure to clean up any vomit or faeces if out in public. Most gastrointestinal illness is spread through contact with affected animals or their vomit and faeces.

SAVSNET have now declared this to be a local outbreak

In other words, an unexpected increase in cases within the Yorkshire region. At the moment it is too early to call this year’s disease an outbreak across the rest of the country. So there is no need to panic if your dog does show signs of tummy troubles. If you have concerns about your dog then take them to your vet, especially as there are many possible causes of vomiting and diarrhoea.

And remember there are lots of other possible causes

Here is a list of some of the many other common causes of vomiting and diarrhoea, so don’t automatically presume it’s the ‘mystery illness’ –

  • Dietary indiscretion – eating something they shouldn’t do, or a sudden change of diet
  • Other viral and bacterial infections – for example, parvovirus
  • Parasites – like worms and the microscopic protozoa, Giardia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – varying degrees of severity exist
  • Dietary sensitivities – allergies or sensitivities to certain types of food
  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas (an organ involved in fat digestion)
  • Endocrine conditions – like Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism)
  • Cancer – more common in older animals
  • Medication side effects – certain drugs can cause digestive issues

If your vet has concerns about your pet after examining them, then they may suggest some further tests to try and understand what the cause of their illness is. Blood tests and faecal samples can help rule in or out some of the conditions listed above. Treatment can then be tailored to their condition. However, many animals will respond to symptomatic treatment such as antinausea injections and bland food for a few days.

Data collection is ongoing for this year’s seasonal illness

SAVSNET say ‘We will continue to monitor this trend in the coming weeks to see whether future data follows the patterns typical of a more normal year, or whether it might follow a pattern more similar to that seen in January 2020. We will decide in the next two weeks whether to start collecting the additional data from both owners of affected animals and their vets necessary to shed further light on what is going on – watch this space.’

So, all we can say for now is that it’s worth being aware of this illness and taking some sensible precautions, but certainly don’t panic. Just make sure you take your dog to the vet for a check over if you have any worries about them at all. 

You might also be interested in: