Mystery Illness? Canine Respiratory Disease

mt. carmel animal hospital canine respiratory

Since the United States doesn’t have a solid surveillance system for infectious diseases in dogs, it’s challenging to track and determine if it’s a canine respiratory disease.

We’re sure you’ve heard about this mystery illness affecting dogs in recent weeks. Since the United States doesn’t have a solid surveillance system for infectious diseases in dogs, it’s challenging to track and determine if it’s a canine respiratory disease. So, the questions are, “do we have more diseases? Or do we have something new? Keep reading for more details.

What is Going On?

Social media and the news can be great to get the word out about important issues, but can also lead to false alarms. We know that dogs are getting sick. We know that some dogs have gotten very sick. What we don’t truly know yet is why.

According to Dr. Jane Sykes, a professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we cannot be sure there is a specific agent is to blame, despite all the attention on individual cases.

Medical organizations and state health officials across the country are reporting cases of respiratory disease in dogs. In general, the primary symptom appears to be a persistent cough that doesn’t go away as would be expected with usual cases of kennel cough. In the worst scenarios, dogs can contract severe pneumonia, which sometimes may develop rapidly. The problem is, that describes all canine upper respiratory disease cases. Canine respiratory disease (also known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex CIRDC) is endemic in dogs and regardless of the causative agent, symptoms can range from mild to deadly. As with humans, it depends on the pet’s age, if their immune system is compromised, and their overall health.

Negative Exams Might Not Rule Out Pathogens

Various veterinarians throughout the country have been sending in specialized testing to try and determine what exactly is causing dogs to get sick. Numerous respiratory panels to check for viruses and bacteria are returning negative. Again, like us humans, upper respiratory symptoms can be caused by so many different agents, it is impossible to test for all of them. Dr. Sykes states that there are numerous reasons a test may come up negative including:

  • The panel did not test for the specific organism causing the illness.
  • The sample gathered could be too small or taken from the wrong body part.
  • The levels of the pathogen may change daily.
  • Or the dog’s body may have stopped shedding it by the time the sample was collected.

Symptoms May Be Caused by a Mixture of Infections

Of the many possibilities, a pathogen soup may be a primary suspect. It’s a combination of co-occurring infections that make dogs sick and prolong their recovery. Also, the epidemiology around the canine respiratory virus is hazy since there’s already some mix of the usual, such as Bordetella, with outbreaks of canine flu on top of that.

What Does All of This Mean?

In a nutshell, we aren’t sure what’s going on. According to Dr. Jeffrey Scott Weese, the Chief of Infection Control in the Health Sciences Centre at the Ontario Veterinary College, there are several options on what is happening right now:

  • There is a multistate outbreak caused by a new bacterium or virus
  • There is a multistate outbreak caused by existing agents
  • There are unconnected sporadic local outbreaks caused by existing agents
  • There is a slight increase in the normal amount of disease we see on a regular basis
  • We are experiencing normal disease activity with an outbreak of media attention

Although many veterinarians like Dr. Weese are skeptical that we are experiencing one of the top three options, pathologists are keeping an open mind as they collect samples from sick canines and seek clues. David Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, analyzes samples from other states to determine if they can find the same genetic material in sick dogs there.

What Can I Do to Protect My Dog?

While we are not entirely certain there is a novel virus or even an outbreak occurring, there are safety measures you can take if you are worried about your dog’s safety:

  • Reduce your dog’s contacts, if possible, especially transient contacts with canines of unknown health status.
  • Keep your pet away from sick dogs and vice versa.
  • Lastly, vaccinate your dog against the upper respiratory agents we can protect against. Bordetella and canine parainfluenza (CPIV) are two common causes of canine upper respiratory infections that can be vaccinated Canine Influenza (CIV) is another upper respiratory virus, although not as common, that your pet can be vaccinated for.


Mount Carmel Animal Hospital has been serving the Northern Baltimore/Southern York community for over 30 years and is proud to be an independently operated, small animal practice committed to excellence in veterinary medicine and client service. From grooming to wellness services, along with Canine Life Skills Training Courses, and surgical procedures, we have the expertise that will best serve the needs of you and your pet. Contact us at 410-343-0200 and follow us on Facebook!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 at 9:43 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.