Mysterious Canine Infection – A Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Perspective
As we head into the last month of 2023, there is a lot of information – and unfortunately panic – about a new and mysterious respiratory tract illness in dogs that is spreading across the United States. This blog will explain what we do know about this illness and provide suggestions for what food and supplementation can be used to boost the immune system, with the goal of (1) reducing risk in getting the disease, and (2) supporting a dog that has been infected.
What do we know about this mysterious respiratory illness?
As of the writing of this blog, we are yet to have clarity around the origin of the disease. The specific organism causing the disease is not yet known. The illness behaves very differently from other more common respiratory diseases like kennel cough (Bordetella), and canine flu. Diagnostic labs in New Hampshire, Washington State, and New York (Cornell University) are trying to determine if the organism is viral, bacterial, or mycoplasma (bacteria that specifically targets the lungs). The disease is not yet considered an epidemic; however, it is likely that it will spread as respiratory diseases are airborne and highly contagious. Outbreaks are currently in “pockets” (New England, Pacific Northwest, Illinois, and Georgia). It is not responsive to traditional antibiotics that are used for pneumonia and other common respiratory illnesses. Most respiratory diseases in dogs have viral origins, and antibiotics are generally not justified. However, an older antibiotic, Chloramphenicol, seems to be more effective than other antibiotics. Chloramphenicol has a slight anti-viral effect and a good anti-bacterial effect, but it is not a regularly used antibiotic. Veterinarians are reluctant to prescribe it because it can cause bone marrow suppression in humans (rarely in dogs).
Senior dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems, cardiac disease, and compromised respiratory function (i.e. laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea) are most at risk for contracting the disease. Some healthy dogs have had the disease, but “healthy” can be subjective. A “healthy” dog may show no outward signs of immune system dysfunction until a mysterious illness begins to spread. Strengthening and supporting the immune and respiratory systems is key to reducing risk for any dog.
What foods strengthen the immune system?
- Blueberries nourish Blood and Yin, clear heat, have antioxidant properties, and play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defense system.
- Turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is a Chi (energy) tonic and resolves stagnation.
- Oily fish like sardines are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory properties, and are a Blood and Chi tonic.
- Broccoli is rich in vitamins, has antioxidant properties, tonifies Blood, and clears heat. Serve steamed or grind into small pieces and serve raw.
- Sweet potato reinforces the spleen and stomach, has antioxidant properties, and is rich in beta carotene and vitamin A.
- Spinach is rich in vitamins C and E, flavonoids, carotenoids, and is a Blood tonic.
- Ginger contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, warms the lungs and arrests cough. Ginger is a warm herb; if a high fever is present, use peppermint or spearmint.
- Garlic breaks down phlegm, reinforces the stomach, and aids digestion. Like ginger, garlic has warming properties and is not recommended if fever is present.
- Red bell pepper is a rich source of vitamin C and promotes circulation.
- Ground almonds transform phlegm and moisten the lungs.
What supplements strengthen the immune system?
- Turkey Tail Mushrooms boost immune cell production, combat infections, and alleviate inflammation.
- Vitamin C, an antioxidant, helps maintain healthy immune system function and is also good for arthritis.
- Colostrum supplies immunoglobulins (antibodies) and cytokines which are important components of the immune system.
- Probiotics support the immune function and gut health.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is important to test current levels of Vitamin D in the body as too much is toxic. Be sure to test levels before administering. On the other hand, low Vitamin D leaves the immune system compromised. Foods such as egg yolks and oily fish (sardines) can be given in place of supplemental Vitamin D without the risk of toxicity.
- Fresh or freeze dried lung – in TCVM like treats like and lung can be a great food or treat to support respiratory function.
From a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) perspective, what foods strengthen the respiratory system?
In TCVM, the lungs (respiratory system) and large intestine are ruled by the metal element. In TCVM, the lungs are the organs most susceptible to invasion from external pathogens, as the lungs are the first barrier to pathogenic invasion. The season of fall and early winter is the time of year when dogs with weak metal elements contract respiratory diseases. Infectious upper respiratory diseases are among the most common problems diagnosed and treated in small animal practice and shelter medicine. The main disorders seen are nasal congestion or discharge and cough. The main disease processes seen in veterinary medicine include rhinitis, sinusitis, infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough), asthma, and pneumonia.
Lungs like moisture and dislike dryness, which is why the drying effect of wind (air) has detrimental effects on the lung system. Foods that moisturize the lungs are especially important during the winter when the air is dry because of forced-air heating used inside homes, or in dry desert environments with extremely low humidity. Foods that strengthen the respiratory system are called Yin tonics and include:
- Proteins such as turkey, duck, cod, clam, rabbit, alligator, shark, egg white, mussel, conch, duck egg and herring
- Grains such as millet, barley, brown rice, flax seed, and alfalfa
- Vegetables and fruits such as spinach, broccoli, celery, mushroom, kelp, seaweed, cucumber, radish, asparagus, melons, pear, apple, and blueberry
- Manuka honey
What treatments, food, and supplements are beneficial for an infected dog?
A bacterial, viral, or mycoplasma infection like the mysterious illness currently making dogs sick is considered “Wind-Heat” in TCVM. Wind-Heat occurs when Wind carries Heat into the body. This pattern can also occur if the Lung Qi (energy) and Wei Qi (body’s protective shield) fail to clear the Wind-Cold pattern. The goal is to stop the pathogens before they can move deeper into the Lungs. Phlegm develops when the fluids become dry, congealed, and solidified (thick, sticky mucus). Resolving Wind-Heat involves clearing heat (inflammation), stopping cough, resolving Phlegm, and eliminating nasal congestion.
Foods that clear heat include turkey, cod, clam, scallop, alligator, rabbit, spinach, asparagus, white radish, honey, and peppermint.
Foods that help resolve Phlegm include clams, pears, ground almonds, Daikon radish, kelp, mustard greens, (cooked) Shiitake mushrooms, and cabbage.
These foods can be added to the regular meal, or a soup or tea can be made from many of the foods listed. For example, a tea can be made by steeping the peel from a pear in water. An herbal tea of honeysuckle flower, hawthorn berry, and honey can be added to the food to activate the immune system. Pineapple soup or tea can also break down phlegm.
If your dog contracts this mysterious illness, he/she may need to be hospitalized, given oxygen, nebulizer treatments, and/or antibiotics. Other alternative therapies that can be used on their own or in conjunction with prescriptions from your veterinarian include:
- Cordyceps mushrooms increases oxygen uptake.
- PEA (Palmitoylethanolamide) is a natural anti-inflammatory that decreases pulmonary fibrosis and damage as well as inflammation.
- NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) is an antioxidant that breaks down mucous and eliminates respiratory inflammation.
- Multi-Mushroom extracts like Mycodog’s Breathe contain cordyceps, Reishi, (inhibits histamine release), Artist Conch (immunomodulator), and Chaga (antibacterial) mushrooms. This combination of mushrooms is good for respiratory and cardiovascular support.
- Manuka honey is antibacterial, boosts the immune system, soothes a sore throat, relieves cough, and has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Apply honey to your finger for your dog to lick off or smear a small amount on the inside of their mouth.
- Colloidal silver has antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, is a natural antibiotic, and works synergistically with synthetic (prescribed) antibiotics.
- Saccharomyces Boulardii, is a yeast that is part of the microbiome. It can support the gut when antibiotics are being administered. Administer during the course of antibiotics and for about two weeks after the course has finished.
Raw feeding may continue if your dog will tolerate it; however, stews and soups rich in the foods mentioned above can be comforting and healing for your dog. It will keep them hydrated and help them to feel better. If your dog is suffering from congestion, you can put them in a bathroom while a steamy hot shower is running to help break up congestion. Coupage is a technique that can be performed by pet owners to help clear secretions from the lungs and is performed by striking the chest gently but firmly on either side with cupped hands.
Whether or not your dog becomes infected with this illness, my best advice is to not panic. Use common sense, and make sure your dog’s immune system is strong. Moisturize (humidify) the air in your home and stay away from events where large groups of dogs are present, particularly indoors where ventilation may be poor. If there is an outbreak in your area, or if you live in a state with an outbreak, you will want to avoid doggie daycare, grooming appointments, and other situations where many dogs are kept indoors in enclosed areas that lack good ventilation. Until we learn more about this mysterious illness, keeping your pet safe and healthy through excellent nutrition is the best preventative medicine.
Avoid over-vaccination and stress which will compromise the immune system. Vaccinating for kennel cough and influenza will not have any effect at preventing this new disease.