In December 2017, a young dog was treated by its veterinarian for fever and respiratory signs that developed four days after sniffing a dead prairie dog. When the dog failed to respond to antibiotics and began coughing up blood, it was taken to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital for additional diagnostics and treatment.
Following several days of hospitalization for suspected aspiration pneumonia, bacterial cultures indicated that the dog had pneumonic plague. Ultimately, the dog was euthanized and 116 veterinary employees were exposed to plague by this dog.
What can be learned from this case?
If you’re in a plague-endemic area, consider plague in any dog with fever and respiratory signs. Plague is typically considered uncommon in dogs, but this case underscores the importance of keeping it on the differential diagnosis list until there is convincing evidence to suggest otherwise.
For those of us who don’t practice in a plague-endemic area, this report still carries valuable lessons. We all learn about the risks of zoonoses in veterinary school, but it can be tempting to “let your guard down” in practice.
Remember that zoonotic diseases can and do occur, with consequences that may range from mild to severe. Consider zoonotic differentials in your patients when appropriate. Until these differentials have been completely ruled out, take appropriate measures to protect your team, your clients, and yourself.
For additional information, see the report from the CDC’s Emergency Infectious Diseases journal.