Atypical Respiratory Illness in Dogs

Atypical Respiratory Illness in Dogs

There have been recent reports in several states, including Pennsylvania, regarding an atypical respiratory illness in dogs.  Signs of respiratory illness in affected dogs include lethargy, coughing, sneezing, and ocular and nasal discharge. Some states have reported dogs that have a longer than expected course of disease, lack of response to treatment, and rarely, there are reports of dogs with rapid onset of severe respiratory signs that have progressed to death.  Dogs with preexisting chronic respiratory illness may be more likely to develop pneumonia.  Despite attempts by veterinarians to find the cause of the illness, testing for the most common respiratory disease pathogens has not provided a definitive causative agent.  Reports from veterinarians indicate that there is no specific treatment that is effective against this illness, and supportive care as needed is recommended.

The term Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC) is often used to describe periodic outbreaks of respiratory illness in populations of dogs, especially groups of dogs exposed to settings where multiple dogs are typically gathered or housed.  Dogs may be infected with several different bacteria and viruses at the same time, and these pathogens can be spread easily between animals by respiratory droplets, such as nasal discharge.

Dog owners should be aware of this illness, closely monitor their dogs’ health, and contact their veterinarians with any questions or concerns.  Your veterinarian can recommend testing for your dog, and if appropriate, can facilitate submission for testing through the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System.  Veterinarians may contact any of the three labs for information regarding sampling and testing procedures.

Dogs owners should take steps to reduce the risk of exposing dogs to respiratory disease. These steps may include:

  • In collaboration with your veterinarian, discuss a vaccination program tailored to your dog’s lifestyle;
    • Avoiding exposing your dog to unknown dogs, especially in areas where a large number of dogs from different households are congregated.  The more contact your dog has with other dogs, the greater the risk of encountering a dog that is infected;
    • Avoid exposing your dogs to sick dogs. Keep your dogs away from any dogs showing signs of respiratory illness.  Check with boarding kennels and groomers to see if they have had any sick dogs recently, and what vaccination requirements they have in place, before taking your dogs in;
  • Avoid public water bowls, or drinking fountains designed for dogs, that are used by multiple dogs;  and
  • If you have a sick dog, keep them isolated from other dogs and call your veterinarian as soon as possible, when supportive care may be most effective.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is monitoring the situation, but the best source of information for your pet remains your trusted veterinarian.

Linked below are helpful guidelines for veterinarians to share with pet owners with information from an AVMA press release and Chief Veterinary Officer of Heart + Paw and PVMA Member, George Melillo, VMD. For additional information, please see the technical bulletin (originally published by Zoetis in 2017) with general information about Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIRD), also linked below.