Q.  All I am hearing is dogs dying of a mysterious upper respiratory disease. Can you tell me what is happening?

A. Yes, there does seem to be a national panic about a respiratory disease called Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC). As the name indicates, there are a complex of possible causes for this outbreak.
CIRDC is the current name for ‘kennel cough’ or ‘canine cough’. There are several viruses and bacteria currently recognized as causes of CIRDC and other co-infections may be involved. Common viruses are canine adenovirus 2, canine distemper, canine influenza, canine herpesvirus, canine parainfluenza virus. Common bacteria include Bordetella bronchiseptica, Streptococcus, and Mycoplasma.
The symptoms are very similar for these different causes, known as pathogens. Most of the symptoms are mild, and dogs will get better on their own, just like we do with the common cold. Dog parents will notice a sudden onset of coughing, sneezing, laryngitis, retching cough with a gag, or discharge from the eyes and nose.  In some individuals, the symptoms may progress to fever, lethargy, in appetence, and difficulty breathing.
There was a rise in the number of dogs developing symptoms of CIRDC two years ago in New England and specifically New Hampshire. This rise was being seen in the typical places we always see outbreaks such as, boarding kennels, daycares, groomers, animal shelters, pet shops, dog parks, dog sport events and shows, and veterinary hospitals. The volume of cases was very high, and with that veterinarians were seeing dogs with more severe symptoms. Since then New England is still seeing cases but at a lower rate.  Now it seems that there are pockets of CIRDC happening around the country. There are several universities and state animal health departments studying these cases to find the cause or causes of the outbreak.
If your dog starts coughing or sneezing and he has been around other dogs, Fido probably caught an upper respiratory infection.  Exposure could have happened weeks before depending on the cause and the offending dog might not have developed symptoms yet. Keeping your dog with symptoms away from other dogs is very important. Let your veterinarian know what is happening. Anyone who had contact with your dog should be told he is coughing.
Most cases resolve in seven to fourteen days without any problems. You should still isolate your dog for 4 weeks once symptoms are gone. If your dog was exposed but never developed symptoms, it needs to isolate for two weeks.
You can use honey to ease the cough or an over-the-counter child’s cough medicine. Keep him in a low stress environment to reduce barking. Remove collars and use a gentle leader or harness to reduce tension on his throat. Make sure to avoid smog, smoking, and other irritating chemicals. Talk to your veterinarian to learn the best treatment for your dog.
In the current outbreak, severe symptoms can come on quickly and last a long time. Most of the dogs who develop severe symptoms are immune compromised. They include puppies under a year, geriatrics, certain dog breeds that predispose them to upper respiratory disease, dogs with co-morbidities, and dogs stressed from intense competition, travel, and environments. These are the ones who need to see their veterinarians right away. Symptoms are increased severity of the cough, increased and thickening of nasal and eye discharge, lack of appetite, lethargy, fever, and difficulty breathing.
Once admitted into the hospital, it will be put in isolation. If your veterinarian doesn’t have adequate isolation facilities, your pup may be transferred to a clinic that does.
Because there may be different causes for CIRDC, animal welfare is requesting veterinarians to run tests to identify the reason your pup is so sick.  Besides radiographs to check for pneumonia and basic blood work, your veterinarian will send out blood samples to run PCR and antibody tests and collect samples of the discharge from your dog’s nose, throat, and eyes to isolate pathogens. These samples are sent off to a lab for identification of the known viruses and bacteria which cause CIRDC. The information will help develop a more accurate treatment plan for Fido.

Treatment will be started with fluids, nebulization, and medicines to help your dog breath better and be more comfortable. Once the lab tests return, the treatment plan may be tweaked for better and faster results.

Here are a few take-aways you need to remember:

1. CIRCD is caused by a variety of viral or bacterial pathogens acting alone or in combination. It is spread by direct contact between infected and susceptible dogs. Aerosol sprays and objects contaminated by the spray from these dogs will spread the disease.
2. Viruses can spread the infection before symptoms are seen.    

3. CIRDC can be prevented or symptoms reduced with appropriate vaccinations, hygiene, quality diet, stress reduction, and where possible, the avoidance of congested environments.

Currently in Maine the number of severely ill dogs is down from a couple of years ago. There are still CIRDC cases but the majority are mild.  

Judith K. Herman, DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center
Augusta, Maine
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