Dog owners should stay informed but ‘not panic’ over rise in cases of canine respiratory illness

Published 9:35 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

An increased number of canines experiencing coughs, fevers and lethargy has raised concern across the country. Veterinary experts have begun to research whether this respiratory illness, canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), is a new pathogen or a resurgence of a known bacterial or viral infection. Either way, veterinarians everywhere have urged dog owners not to panic, as continued research is needed to understand what this “mystery illness” is.

“We don’t know everything about it yet,” said Dr. Mark Grossman of Roanoke Island Animal Clinic. “There’s a lot of different theories that the experts have on what’s going on.” The local vet shared that North Carolina is one of the states where cases of CIRDC haven’t been documented yet. While the veterinarian hasn’t found an official case of the respiratory illness on the Outer Banks as of early December, he did report that within the past month or so, there have been an increased number of coughing dogs treated at his clinic – dogs that are well-vaccinated for canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough, he added.

There are several bacterial and viral infections that cause canine cough, such as parainfluenza, coronavirus and Bordetella. Experts are currently working to determine whether one of these familiar infections is the culprit of the rise in canine cough cases, or if this is a new bacterium that has yet to be identified. Vets country-wide have recently been experiencing more cases of CIRDC with longer recovery periods and, in some instances, more severe symptoms. There are several precautions the specialists have outlined for dog owners to protect their pets from picking up the illness.

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“The guidelines from the immunologists say to limit contact with other dogs of unknown health status, avoid rest areas or places where a lot of other dogs go to, keep your dog away from other dogs that are sick, and if your dog is sick, take them to the vet and keep them away from other dogs,” Grossman explained. He stressed the importance of vaccinating dogs for kennel cough and influenza, adding that kennel cough is not something strictly contracted from dogs that are boarded. “Any dog that is contact with another dog can pick up the cough, and it spreads fast.”

Grossman reiterated that this is not something the general public should panic about; staying informed and proceeding with caution is best. The dogs that cause more concern for vets are the ones with weakened immune systems, such as young puppies that have yet to receive a full set of vaccinations and older dogs, as they are more susceptible. “Brachycephalic,” or canines that have a shorter snout, tend to have a harder time clearing respiratory tract infections, as reported by Dr. Deborah Silverstein, a professor of small animal emergency and critical care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Ryan Veterinary Hospital.

Treatment, according to Grossman, involves supportive care and, depending on the severity of the case, antibiotics. “It’s a lot like when a human gets the flu,” he offered. Rest is suggested, lots of fluids and separation from other canines. As far as the cause of each cough, the doctor admitted that it’s difficult to tell. “Diagnosing the actual cause would take a lot of diagnostics.” He added, “but most dogs get better with symptomatic care.”

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