The Reported Outbreak of Respiratory Disease in Dogs


Recently, at a Veterinary Association of the North Shore meeting, I did a random survey of our mutual experience with this reported outbreak. I’m not sure there’s a new disease here. I’m not even sure there’s a major outbreak (or any outbreak).

The disease , (which we refer to as canine infectious respiratory disease complex, or CIRDC) in dogs has been reported fairly extensively in the media.  There’s always limited info about numbers, and the disease description is coughing dogs, some that get pneumonia, a few that die.

That largely describes our normal state.  CIRDC is endemic in dogs, with various known causes (e.g. canine parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine pneumovirus, canine influenza virus, Streptococcus zooepidemicus, generally in that order of occurrence, and perhaps Mycoplasma.  There are also presumably a range of viruses that have been present for a long time but that we don’t diagnose.

We see CIRDC all the time, everywhere.  A background level of disease usually occurs under the radar, alongside periodic clusters.

I get questions every week asking whether there’s more or more severe CIRDC activity at the moment.  To me, that reflects the fact that there’s always circulation of CIRDC and that we notice it more at times, either because of local clusters or, increasingly, local increases in awareness because of media coverage.  Media and social media can drive outbreak concerns. They can be great to get the word out and help sort out issues, but sometimes they lead to false alarms.

We don’t have any idea if the current stories reflect a multistate outbreak caused by some new bacterium/virusA, multistate outbreak caused by our usual suspects, for some reason, unconnected sporadic local outbreaks caused by usual suspA, a slight increase in baseline disease or our normal disease activity that’s resulted in an outbreak of media attention.

I suspect that we have been seeing a bit more CIRDC activity over the past couple of years and that we see a somewhat greater incidence of severe cases. However, with more cases, we see more severe diseases, so those are linked.

I cannot discount something new, and we continue to try to get a better handle on what’s happening. It’s tough since there’s no effective surveillance system.  Testing is expensive and rarely impacts how we care for an individual dog.

In my opinion, this is an outbreak of media attention and a somewhat increased rate of disease that we’ve seen over the past year.

However, I cannot be 100% sure, which is why we’re still trying to figure things out.  But I don’t see a reason for extra concern.  If you’re worried about canine respiratory disease, still, it is a good idea to limit your dog’s contact, especially transient contact with dogs of unknown health status.  Keep your dog away from sick dogs.  If your dog is sick, keep it away from other dogs.
Talk to your vet about vaccination against canine parainfluenza (CPIV) and Bordetella bronchiseptica  and canine influenza.   

So far, this is what has been reported.  Dogs in at least seven states have been infected.  Symptoms include coughing, fever, lethargy, and intermittent loss of appetite.

The symptoms are similar to kennel cough, an upper respiratory infection, but can last much longer and, in some cases, prove fatal, according to veterinarians.

What are the symptoms?

The infected dogs develop a cough, fever, lethargy, and intermittent loss of appetite. While infected, some dogs will develop pneumonia.  Veterinarians have reported seeing blue and purple gums in those cases.

Dogs with kennel cough may show some symptoms, such as coughing, lack of appetite, fever, and lethargy.  The symptoms usually clear up in one to three weeks if it's a kennel cough. With the latest respiratory illness, however, veterinarians report that dogs can have symptoms for six weeks or more.

Where has this been reported?

The illness has been found in at least seven states: Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Illinois, Maryland and Wyoming.

It’s unclear how many dogs have been infected because there is no official count of the cases.

The cause is not clear.

It’s unclear what causes the illness.  Researchers are still running tests to learn more about the illness.  Some disagree on whether a virus or bacteria causes the illness.

 I recommend a continued observation of general trends; however, at this time, I see little reason to panic.

Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.