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Mysterious Respiratory Illness In Dogs

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), more familiarly known as “kennel cough,” is a highly contagious illness affecting the respiratory tract in dogs. All breeds and ages are susceptible. As the name “kennel cough” suggests, dogs at particular risk are those exposed to settings where multiple dogs are typically gathered or housed, such as kennels, shelters, and daycare facilities.


The classic sign of CIRDC is a frequent, honking cough that comes on suddenly. This cough has also been described as gagging or retching, and it can involve froth that looks like vomit. Coughing generally worsens with activity or exercise, which can irritate the airways.

Even so, not all dogs with CIRDC will have a cough. Other common signs include sneezing and a runny nose or eyes.

In most cases of CIRDC, the illness is mild and dogs fully recover within 7 to 10 days. However, depending on the infecting organism(s) and the dog’s ability to fight them, some dogs may develop more severe signs like lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, productive cough, and rapid or labored breathing, which can signal that bacteria have infected the lungs (bacterial pneumonia) and immediate veterinary attention is needed.

Dogs in which canine distemper virus is one of the infecting organisms may also have gastrointestinal signs (e.g., vomiting or diarrhea), hardened footpads, and, as the disease progresses, neurologic signs (e.g., head tilt or circling behavior). These dogs, as well as puppies and older dogs with other health problems, are at greater risk of severe disease, and even death.

Mysterious Respiratory Infection

There have been recent reports of concern about a possible new respiratory disease in dogs. Experts in CIRDC are urging caution as a mysterious variant of canine respiratory disease continues to make headlines in the United States. The pathogen or virus causing this Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIRD) is unknown. Investigators in Oregon and New Hampshire are among those researching the disease. The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) reported calls coming in over a recent period of 2 months from veterinarians experiencing double the typical number of patients with canine infectious respiratory disease in the state than what is normally seen during an outbreak of this type.  The reported signs (cough, sneeze, runny nose, +/- fever, lethargy, decreased appetite) are like what is commonly seen in dogs with infectious respiratory disease. Some dogs are reported to have very mild clinical signs, and others have more severe signs or pneumonia. Diagnostic laboratories across the country are analyzing samples from affected dogs to further understand this new pathogen causing respiratory disease in dogs. The currently reported disease is suspected to be transmitted in the same way other respiratory diseases of dogs (e.g. “kennel cough”) are transmitted (close contact, airborne droplets).

In Oregon, more than 200 reports of CIRD cases have been received by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) since August 2023. There are more than 10 states, including Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, as well as, Southern California, seeing an increase in respiratory cases in different locations. Some of those cases are cleanly getting diagnosed with the more serious respiratory illness. As of this publication, Missouri has had no signs of this illness reported.

Treatment is determined by the attending veterinarian based on the dog’s history, clinical signs, and results of examination and/or lab work and radiographs. Please note that if you do bring your dog to a veterinarian for cough, the staff may wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and bring your dog in through a different entrance than usual to help prevent spreading a coughing disease to other dogs. Please, let our staff know about any coughs or other symptoms like the ones previously listed.

Presentation and Diagnosing

It is important to understand what is known about this disease. The canines that are at risk have interactions with other dogs through boarding, daycares, parks, and groomers. Although shelters are typically at risk for outbreaks due to crowding, animal shelter animals appear to be less affected by unknown pathogens such as this.

Dogs that are presenting with this disease at clinics typically have an acute cough, sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, fever, anorexia, and lethargy. It is advised clients whose dogs are coughing to remove their pet’s collar. This way, it will not further irritate their trachea or hamper their breathing. If the case is mild enough, it can be self-limited without treatment. However, cough suppressants may be used to make the pet more comfortable. Pets may need to be hospitalized for nebulization, intravenous antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and rehydration, and in severe cases, ventilatory support may be required.

Prevention and Protection

We can not emphasize strongly enough the importance of keeping up with vaccinations, including canine influenza, Bordetella, and parainfluenza. This is the best way to help keep dogs safe from diseases. Because this disease is highly contagious, keeping dogs away from unfamiliar dogs, when possible, can keep them safe.

At this time we recommend that dog owners not worry, but exercise appropriate caution. Mitchell Veterinary Clinic recommends that if your pet is presenting with respiratory issues, please call ahead to let our staff know. This gives our team the chance to assess them outside before bringing them into the clinic to minimize the risk to pets in the waiting room or other exam rooms.

Be sure your dog is fully vaccinated. Download our new mobile app, PetDesk, in order to stay on schedule with your dogs yearly vaccines. Vaccines for respiratory disease include those for “kennel cough”  (also known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex) and canine influenza if your dog goes where there are other dogs (groomer, boarding, day care, play groups, dog parks, dog shows, etc.). It is good to ask that the places like those listed where you take your dog require vaccinations for all dogs before participation.

Don’t let your pet visit sick dogs. If your dog becomes ill with respiratory signs such as coughing or sneezing, watch closely, keep away from other dogs (i.e. don’t attend day care, etc.), and if your dog is lethargic, not eating, or the cough persists/worsens seek care immediately.

Mitchell Veterinary Clinic

Mitchell Veterinary Clinic

Providing veterinary care since 1995 like exams, vaccines, surgery, labs, dental, nutrition and more!

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