What is This New Respiratory Disease in Dogs and How Worried Should I Be?

Posted on December 01, 2023

by Guest Contributor

Posted December 1, 2023

Over the past few months, you have likely heard of a new “mystery” respiratory illness in dogs that has been sweeping the country. We have also been seeing an increased number of respiratory cases in Iowa that follows the pattern seen in other states.  While the overall percentage of cases and fatalities is similar to the “usual” canine respiratory diseases that circulate normally, the severity of this new presentation is concerning, and leads to a lot of questions.  However, contrary to some social media and news stories about the disease, we are far from needing to panic or take extraordinary measures at this time. 

Below, we have compiled all the known information to date, and are continually learning more, as more information unfolds.  

What Kennel Cough is:  

  • Kennel cough is a broad term often used to describe any infectious or contagious condition in dogs where coughing is one of the major clinical signs.  This can be caused by both viruses and bacteria.  Some of the most common causes are bordetella, mycoplasma, canine influenza virus, and parainfluenza virus. Because it is caused by multiple organisms, we often refer to this group of diseases as kennel cough or canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD), since we can’t tell them apart clinically. 
  • Symptoms typically include coughing, eye and nasal discharge, and sometimes a mild fever.  
  • Typically, symptoms resolve within 10-14 days.  


What We Know (and Don’t):  

  • The cause of the disease is yet unknown. We can be seeing a new presentation of a known organism, such as influenza or bordetella, or may be dealing with an all new organism.   We are not even sure if all of the cases are caused by the same organism, or if we are just seeing pockets of the typical respiratory disease organisms acting in an atypical fashion due to other factors. 
  • Cases appear to primarily fall within three general clinical syndromes:  
    • Chronic mild to moderate tracheobronchitis (tracheal and lung inflammation) for 6-8 weeks or longer that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics.  
    • Chronic pneumonia that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics 
    • Acute pneumonia that rapidly becomes severe and often leads to poor outcomes in as little as 24-36 hours. 
  • It only appears to be contagious to dogs. Other pets and people are not affected.  
  • At least 14 states across the country are currently experiencing this atypical kennel cough, and laboratories and veterinary colleges across the country are working on determining the cause.  
  • The disease is spread through direct contact or through water droplets from sneezing and coughing, as with other forms of respiratory disease.  
  • Individuals with predisposing conditions are more susceptible to the severe forms of the disease. These include:  
    • The very old and very young 
    • Brachycephalic breeds (such as bulldogs, pugs, etc) 
    • Chronic systemic disease, such as heart disease, liver failure, etc.  
    • The immunosuppressed (e.g. patients undergoing chemotherapy, taking large doses of steroids, etc).  
    • Pregnant dogs 


What to Watch for:  

  • Coughing  
  • Sneezing 
  • Nose or eye discharge 
  • Labored breathing 
  • Lethargy 
  • Decreased appetite 


What to do if Your Dog is Showing Symptoms:  

  • Contact your veterinarian 
  • Symptoms can start very mild, but can increase in severity very rapidly, so it is important that an exam be performed and check your pet for discharge, a fever, and listen to the heart and lungs for signs of pneumonia.  
  • Keep your dog (and any other dogs in the household) home and isolated from other dogs for at least 2 weeks after the last day coughing is noted.  
  • Monitor for labored breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, or other signs of progressing severity.  


How to Help Keep Your Dogs Safe:  

  • Keep your dog’s annual vaccines up to date (this includes bordetella and their dhpp vaccinations).  
  • Consider in-home pet sitters in lieu of boarding.  
  • Avoid dog parks and other public areas where groups of dogs gather and vaccination status is unknown.
  • Avoid communal water and food dishes with dogs outside of your household.  
  • If your dog attends daycare, goes to a groomer or dog training classes, or is in other situations where there will be groups of dogs, be proactive in asking about any recent cases of respiratory disease.  
  • Avoid letting your dog be exposed to other dogs that are coughing (e.g. dogs belonging to family, friends, etc).  
    • Especially as we go into Christmas, it may be wise to ask family and friends if their dogs have had exposure to groups of dogs, or have been coughing, before allowing them to have contact with your dogs.  


What We are Doing at AAAC to Help Keep Your Dogs Safe:  

  • Limiting symptomatic dogs to designated rooms, to avoid exposure of asymptomatic kiddos.  
  • Bringing coughing dogs through a different door (our east door) to avoid exposure of our reception area.  
  • Asking owners to call when they arrive, before bringing their dogs in, to help control exposure.  
  • Wearing gowns and staying in the room to avoid spreading the disease to the rest of the hospital.  
  • All of our doctors are scanning for new information about the disease, and we will be adjusting our processes and treatment plans accordingly.  
  • Performing respiratory testing of each case we see, to try to determine a possible cause, and to look for trends.  


The important thing to remember is not to panic. While symptoms are lasting longer, most dogs will exhibit mild symptoms and will recover fully. It is important to watch your dog closely, and If you note any of the above symptoms, please contact your veterinarian immediately. 

 We will be updating this information with any new developments as they unfold. As always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions, and watch our facebook page for updates!  

 Author: Dr. Amanda Gigler 

Owner, Veterinarian 

Email: frontdesk@ankenyanimalandavian 

Phone: (515) 964-7387 

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