Understanding and Managing the Spread of a New Canine Respiratory Illness

Posted on Mon 20 November 2023 in news


Read on huffpost

Read related article Chicago Sun Times

Listen to related story on WBBM

The dog world is currently facing a significant challenge with the emergence of a highly contagious upper respiratory infection. This illness, spreading across the United States, has raised concerns among pet owners and veterinarians alike. Dr. Kelly Cairns, a small-animal internal medicine veterinarian and Vice President of Medical Excellence and Education at Thrive Pet Healthcare, has shared valuable insights and recommendations to navigate this alarming situation.

The Severity of the Outbreak

Nicole Critten, Getty Images

Unlike typical respiratory infections in dogs, which exhibit mild-to-moderate symptoms for a week or two, this new illness is causing a persistent cough lasting six to eight weeks. Alarmingly, some dogs are developing pneumonia unresponsive to antibiotics, and a small percentage have succumbed to the disease.

Geographical Spread and Unknown Pathogen

First reported in Oregon with over 200 cases since August, the illness has now been detected in the West, Midwest, and Northeast, including Colorado, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The causative agent of this outbreak remains a mystery. It is not attributed to dog flu or kennel cough, which are the usual suspects in canine respiratory diseases.

Advice from Dr. Kelly Cairns

Dr. Cairns emphasizes the importance of caution during this time. She advises against exposing dogs to high-risk situations such as boarding, daycare, kennels, and dog parks. The pathogen, possibly a virus, is challenging to identify with current tests, making prevention crucial.

Vulnerable Populations

Puppies, older dogs, and those with pre-existing health conditions are particularly susceptible to severe complications from respiratory infections. Dr. Cairns notes that while there are many pathogens capable of causing such diseases in dogs, the current situation is unique due to the unidentified nature of the pathogen.

What Pet Owners Should Do

  1. Stay Informed: Keep track of local cases through your veterinarian or the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
  2. Minimize Exposure: Avoid group settings for your dogs to reduce the risk of infection.
  3. Health Checks and Vaccinations: Ensure your dog is up-to-date with routine vaccinations and receives a health check before interacting with other dogs.
  4. Immediate Veterinary Care: If your dog shows symptoms like coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, or difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian right away.
  5. Supportive Care: While antibiotics may not be effective, other supportive measures can aid in recovery.
  6. Isolation: If your dog is infected, isolate them until they've been symptom-free for a few days to prevent spreading the infection.


This emerging respiratory illness in dogs is a reminder of the importance of preventive health measures and the need for vigilance in the face of new diseases. By following the guidelines and advice from experts like Dr. Kelly Cairns, pet owners can play an important role in protecting their beloved pets and preventing the further spread of this concerning illness.