Mysterious Respiratory Illness Affecting Dogs

Mysterious Respiratory Illness Affecting Dogs

A mysterious canine respiratory disease is increasingly spreading in the U.S. but the cause is still unknown. The symptoms are similar to canine influenza or kennel cough, such as cough, fever, and nasal discharge, and it can lead to pneumonia.

When a dog has a contagious respiratory infection but the underlying cause is unknown, the diagnosis may be referred to as “canine infectious respiratory disease complex” or CIRDC, also known as kennel cough. The infection could be caused by multiple viruses and bacteria at the same time.

So far the illness has been reported in a handful of states, including Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Dogs who spend time in dog daycare centers, boarding facilities, or dog parks seem to be at greater risk of contracting the mysterious dog sickness.

“There is no singular pathogen that has been isolated at this time—just your typical garden variety respiratory germs,” states Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, a veterinarian based in Colorado. “In addition, any infectious respiratory disease is going to be harder on shelter dogs than owned dogs because shelter dogs are crowded and stressed.”

How to Protect Your Dog from Getting Sick

While the source of the mystery illness is yet unknown, you can still take precautions to help reduce the spread of germs and keep your pup safe.

“Veterinary researchers are still investigating the cause of this new sickness, but it’s currently suspected to be bacterial,” says Dr. Rhiannon Koehler, DVM, MPH. So it’s a good idea to maintain good hygiene to minimize risks.

Here are some veterinarian-approved tips to follow:

  • “Avoid contact with unfamiliar dogs,” Dr. Koehler suggests. Wash your hands after interacting with them and try to prevent your dog from nose-to-nose contact.
  • “Consider keeping your pet home for the holidays while this outbreak is ongoing,” Dr. Koehler says. 
  • If you need to board your dog, Dr. Wooten recommends vaccinating your pet with the intranasal kennel cough vaccine at least two weeks prior to boarding and making sure they are up to date with the DHPP vaccine (also referred to as DA2PP vaccine).
  • You may also want to ask the boarding facility what steps they’re taking to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease, Dr. Koehler adds.
  • If you have an older or immunosuppressed dog, consider hiring a pet sitter and keeping your dog at home, Dr. Wooten suggests.
  • If your dog has been in a high-risk environment, consider a quarantine period before exposing them to other dogs.
  • Keep your dog from drinking or eating out of communal bowls.
  • Avoid stressful situations like boarding kennels, dog parks, or grooming facilities. “As we all know, stress suppresses the immune system,” Dr. Wooten says.
  • Keep your dog healthy with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming. A strong immune system is better equipped to fight off infections.

Finally, If you suspect your dog is ill, consult with your veterinarian at the first sign of symptoms, which can include sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and discharge from the nose or eyes, says Dr. Koehler. Early detection and treatment can help manage the illness and prevent its spread to other dogs.

While a small percentage of fatal cases have been reported, most dogs recover with appropriate supportive care over the course of 1-2 months, Dr. Koehler says.

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