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Frequently Asked Questions about the Canine Respiratory Disease Outbreak

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

You have likely seen media coverage regarding the canine respiratory disease outbreak occurring in parts of the United States. What is really going on? How worried should you be? What measures can you take to ensure the health of your pets? This communication aims to provide important, up-to-date information that can calm your fears and give you the tools needed to confidently make decisions regarding the care of your pet.


Question 1: What is the current situation?

Regions across the United States are seeing a rise in cases of canine infectious respiratory disease complex. It is important to note that we usually see an increase in cases this time of year, similar to what we see in respiratory infections in people. Some of these cases are reported to be associated with a more severe clinical disease course or a more chronic persistent cough than seen in previous years, although data to support this is lacking at this time. Additionally, some of these cases do not have detectable amounts of the normal “suspects” we see this time of year. While we are still working out just what is circulating in various regions at this time, there is no reason to be alarmed, just aware.


Question 2: What signs should I expect if my dog were to fall ill?

The vast majority of cases are mild – so mild that most will get better on their own, similar to kids with colds. Signs of a mild infection might include an intermittent dry or hacking cough, snotty nose, or mild lethargy. Remember, a cough is a sign of disease, but not a disease. Coughing is an important way to clear out an infection and not necessarily a sign of an emergent problem. A few cases may have thicker nasal or eye discharge, a more productive and persistent cough, wheezing, or fever. Severe cases remain rare.


Question 3: If I see signs, when should I contact my veterinarian?

Your family veterinarian is an excellent source of information that can calm your fears and give you valuable insight to guide your decisions. Call your veterinarian before bringing your dog into the clinic as they might opt to treat at home or give you specific instructions on bringing your pet into the clinic in a way that avoids contact with other animals. If your pet is depressed, having difficulty breathing, not eating, or has a productive cough, you will need to bring them to the clinic to be seen and receive the appropriate care. In more severe cases, they may need antibiotics in addition to other care. However, the majority of cases will be managed supportively without antibiotics.


Question 4: Is my dog at higher risk for this disease?

Your dog’s immune status matters regardless of what virus or bacteria is causing their problem. Puppies and our seniors are at higher risk as well as any pets with chronic disease (such as heart, kidney, or cancers). Dogs who are not up to date on vaccines are also at increased risk as well as our squash-nosed dogs (Frenchies, bulldogs, etc.). At this time, there is no reason to be concerned for spread to people, cats, or other animals beyond dogs.


Question 5: What can I do to protect my dog from this disease?

Give your dog the gift of immune protection this holiday season! This means keeping them up to date on their vaccines, including their core distemper-adenovirus-parvovirus vaccine, Bordetella-parainfluenza vaccine, and canine influenza vaccination. Avoid socializing your pet with other dogs who have an unknown vaccine history (such as at dog parks). If you need to board your dog this holiday season, select a facility that requires vaccination. Don’t underestimate the power of good nutrition and other preventive care as well. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your family veterinarian.


Content provided by Dr. Jennifer Rudd through the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine

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