We have received several calls and emails with concerns regarding the reports of the atypical canine infectious respiratory disease that is being discussed in the media.  This is being monitored closely by our veterinary medical association and the LA County Veterinary Public Health Department which disseminates their regular updates with us.  As of today, there have not been any reports of outbreaks in any pet facilities in our area.

One of our veterinary infectious disease experts recently released this statement about the issue since he has been fielding so many questions himself from both clients and veterinarians:

The typical question “What’s going on with this reported outbreak of respiratory disease in dogs in the US? What new disease is this?”

I’m not sure there’s a new disease here. I’m not even sure there’s a major outbreak (or any outbreak).

Various groups are reporting stories of respiratory disease (which we refer to as canine infectious respiratory disease complex, or CIRDC) in dogs in various parts of the US. There’s always limited info about numbers and the disease description is vague…coughing dogs, some that get pneumonia, a few that die.

The issue is, that largely describes our normal state. CIRDC is endemic in dogs, with various known causes (e.g. canine parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine pneumovirus, canine influenza virus, Streptococcus zooepidemicus…..roughly in that order of occurrence, and maybe the enigmatic Mycoplasma). There are also presumably a range of viruses that have been present for a long time but that we don’t diagnose.

We see CIRDC all the time, everywhere. There’s a background level of disease that usually flies under the radar, alongside periodic clusters.

I get lots of emails every week asking whether there’s more or more severe CIRDC activity at the moment. The thing is, I’ve been getting those for years, from across North America. To me, that reflects the fact that there’s always circulation of CIRDC and that we notice it more at times, either because of local clusters or, increasingly, local increases in awareness.

Media and social media can drive outbreak concerns. They can be great to get the word out and help sort out issues, but often, they lead to false alarms.

For example, we might have 100 dogs with CIRDC every week in Guelph (a complete guess since we have no way to track this). Usually, few people hear about it. The dogs typically get better and life goes on. However, if someone starts talking about it on social media, we might hear about 50 of those 100 cases. All of a sudden, we have an ‘outbreak of a disease affecting dozens of dogs’ when in reality, we might just have our normal background level of disease that people are actually noticing.

The same thing happens more broadly. There are thousands of coughing dogs in the US every day, since there are millions of dogs. Once people start talking about it, some of these go from ‘oh, my dog is coughing. I guess he picked up something at the park. Whatever.’ to “OMG, my dog has this new disease that’s sweeping the nation”. With the first approach, no one but the owner usually knows or cares. Once we hit panic mode, we tell everyone about it.

We don’t have any idea if the current stories reflect

  • A multistate outbreak caused by some new bacterium/virus
  • A multistate outbreak caused by our usual suspects, for some reason
  • Unconnected sporadic local outbreaks caused by usual suspects
  • A slight increase in baseline disease
  • Our normal disease activity that’s resulted in an outbreak of media attention.

I suspect it’s one of the last two. My perception is that we have been seeing a bit more CIRDC activity over the past couple years and that we see a somewhat greater incidence of severe cases. However, with more cases, we see more severe disease, so those are linked. Also, with the explosion of breeds like French bulldogs that are much more likely to have severe outcomes from any respiratory disease (since a large percentage of them have been bred to have completely disfunctional respiratory tracts), increases in deaths could be linked to dog factors, not disease factors.

I never discount something new and we continue to try (futilely so far) to get a better handle on what’s happening. It’s tough since there’s no effective surveillance system, voluntary reporting that we’ve tried tends not to get much buy in (since clinics are swamped), testing is expensive and rarely impacts how we’d care for an individual dog (so it’s great for surveillance but harder to justify for an individual owner) and we have little to no funding to do much with companion animal infectious diseases.

My guess? This is an outbreak of media attention piggybacked on a somewhat increased rate of disease that we’ve seen over the past year.

I might be wrong, which is why we’re still trying to figure things out. But I don’t see a reason for extra concern.

If you’re worried about canine respiratory disease:

  • Limit your dog’s contacts, especially transient contacts with dogs of unknown health status
  • Keep your dog away from sick dogs
  • If your dog is sick, keep it away from other dogs
  • Talk to your vet about vaccination against canine parainfluenza (CPIV) and Bordetella bronchiseptica (plus canine influenza, but that’s much more sporadic and vaccine availability is still an issue).      

We hope this helps to put you at ease.  If nothing else, to let you know we are aware of what is out there and always willing to discuss vaccines and risk assessment with you and your pets.  If you have further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to send us an email.  Please know it may take 24-72 hours for us to reply.

Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital