Alert: Canine Upper Respiratory Disease

Canine Upper Respiratory Disease Outbreak Information

November 28, 2023

Dear Clients, Friends, and Family,

Over the past week we have received a multitude of phone calls and inquiries regarding media reports of a unusual canine Upper Respiratory Disease outbreak across the country.  We have compiled the following to help pet owners keep up to date with the latest information and help separate facts as we know them, from media hype and fiction.

Canine upper respiratory infections (including what is commonly called “kennel cough”) usually fall under the umbrella term Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC) in professional circles.  It does not refer to a single pathogen, but can be caused by one of several viruses or bacteria, including Canine Parainfluenza Virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine Respiratory Coronavirus, Canine Pneumovirus, Canine Influenza Virus, and Streptococcus zooepidemicus.    Parainfluenza and Bordetella are the most common, which is why they are part of most dogs’ recommended core vaccines.  Typical cases of CIRDC are very common in dogs and are usually self-limiting, or can easily be treated with standard antibiotic therapy and cough suppressants.

In recent months, news and social media outlets have been reporting about a new or more serious canine upper respiratory illness spreading across the United States.  This has come after veterinarians in several states have reported an increase in patients being examined and treated for upper respiratory disease.  In some cases these dogs have developed pneumonia and/or a lingering cough.  Some pets even required hospitalization including supplemental oxygen.  Health and professional agencies are currently referring to these cases as atypical CIRDC.

At this time, no causative agent for the atypical cases has been identified.  What we do know so far:

  • As many as 14 states have noted an increase in reports* of Canine Upper Respiratory cases, some of which present with atypical symptoms.
  • Common presenting symptoms include: Coughing, Sneezing, Nasal Discharge, and Lethargy.
  • Treatment for these cases has required varying levels of supportive care ranging from simple antibiotics and cough suppressants to (rarely) hospitalization and supplemental oxygen.
  • Most affected pets recover with appropriate treatment.  However, what seems to set the atypical cases apart is that the cough may last 4-6 weeks due to persistent tracheobronchitis.
    • In some of the more severe cases, this illness has progressed to pneumonia and in rare cases these dogs have died. (Reports do note that the majority of fatalities have had pre-existing medical conditions that likely contributed to the severity of their illness).
  • Most affected pets have recent exposure to other dogs including trips to doggie day-care, boarding or grooming facilities or busy dog parks.

*It is important to note that periodic outbreaks of CIRDC do occur in canine populations.  Additionally, it is normal for us to see an increase in typical CIRDC during vacation and holiday seasons, when pets are more likely to be boarded.  It is possible that some of the current increase in case reports is due to owners being hyperaware of the “outbreak” and reporting cases that they may have normally watched and who would have recovered normally at home.

This does not mean that reports are not concerning or not worth watching.  At this time, we know of several cities who are closely monitoring an increase in reported upper respiratory cases, most notably those with atypical presentations. 

While experts are studying this most recent outbreak (and especially the atypical cases) owners should exercise caution and be vigilant.

How to protect your pets:

  • If your pet shows any of the symptoms listed above, please contact us or your local emergency veterinarian if it is after hours.
  • Limit your dog’s contacts, especially with dogs of unknown history and/or health status.
    • This would include staying away from boarding facilities (if possible), doggy day care, dog beach, dog parks and similar areas.
  • Keep your dog away from sick dogs, even if the illness appears minor.
  • If your dog is sick, ISOLATE them from other dogs to prevent the spread of the illness.
  • Do not allow your dog to drink from communal water bowls.
  • Wash your hands before handling your dogs if you have pet or handled other dogs.
  • Make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccines, especially Canine Parainfluenza* and Bordetella bronchiseptica*.  You may also consider the Canine Influenza vaccine, although that has not yet been found to be prevalent in San Diego County.
    • *Both Parainfluenza and Bordetella are part of AVC’s recommended core vaccines
    • We are happy to discuss the influenza vaccine at your visit to determine if your pet should receive it.
  • If your dog does fall ill, early upper respiratory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing can help determine the cause early and can lead to earlier appropriate treatment. 

Extra caution for this and any respiratory illness should be exercised with high-risk dogs, including those who are:

  • Elderly
  • Very Young
  • Pregnant
  • Immunocompromised
  • Have underlying heart or respiratory tract disease
  • Brachycephalic breeds (flat face breeds)

Currently, we are closely monitoring our own cases, reports from other veterinarians, and the recommendations of veterinary internal medicine and infectious disease specialists.  As we receive new information, we will make sure that our clients, friends and families get the facts as soon as we have them!

If you have any questions, we encourage you to contact us


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