For pet owners: Information about mysterious respiratory illness in dogs

sad dogRecent media coverage of a “mysterious” respiratory illness in dogs in the US has created concern with dog owners.  While there is always a year-round baseline incidence of dogs with a respiratory infection, spikes in the number of affected dogs occur periodically during a typical year. At this time, it is unclear if the current surge in numbers is part of the expected cycle, is truly larger than expected, or if media coverage has amplified the situation.   It is clear, however, that veterinarians and dog owners have increased awareness.

The cause(s) of the infections has not been determined, leading to speculation that the current infection spike is caused by a new” mysterious” pathogen. While this potential is being investigated, it is also possible that the illness is due to viruses and bacteria known to cause respiratory infections in dogs. The answers await the testing of many more samples that are being submitted to diagnostic labs by veterinarians at this time.

Regardless of the cause, we understand that everyone is concerned with protecting their dog from infection. While some dogs can develop pneumonia from respiratory infections, the vast majority of dogs with a respiratory infection recover in a week or two without any complications.

So, what should dog owners do? 

1. Talk with your veterinarian for more information or if you are concerned that your dog could be affected.

2. Know the risk factors for exposure to respiratory pathogens

Many of the dogs with respiratory infections reported by veterinarians have a history of recent contact with other dogs in a social setting.  These settings include exposure to unfamiliar dogs and dogs with unknown health status. Respiratory viruses and bacteria are highly contagious and spread through the air as well as by direct contact with contaminated surfaces and objects in the environment. These transmission properties result in spread between dogs co-housed in a kennel setting or in direct contact with other dogs. Such settings include:

  • Boarding kennels
  • Daycare centers
  • Dog parks
  • Groomers
  • Dog shows

3.  Take precautions

Limit contact with dogs in social settings to limit your dog’s risk of exposure to respiratory pathogens.

  • If your dog is showing signs of respiratory illness (cough, lethargy, labored breathing), call your veterinarian for guidance and keep your dog separate from other dogs until recovered.
  • Be vigilant and distance from potentially sick dogs in public settings
  • Consider using pet sitters if planning a trip
  • Continue activities such as a dog walking group or day care group if the group is small and includes the same dogs every day

4. What if my dog gets sick

  • Talk to your veterinarian. They will guide you on next steps. It is very important that you communicate with the veterinarian before coming to the clinic so they can prepare to see your dog while taking steps to reduce the risk of exposing other dogs.
  • Most dogs will experience mild, short-lived disease and can stay at home with veterinarian guidance.

Dogs that stop eating, are lethargic, have intense coughing, or difficulty breathing should be seen by a veterinarian. Calling your veterinarian first helps them to prepare to see your dog while limiting exposure to other dogs.

Information for veterinarians can be found here.