Latest Canine Respiratory Bug

I suspect by now that the majority of dog owners who engage in any form of social media have heard about the Atypical Canine Respiratory Disease in dogs that has appeared in more and more dogs across quite a few states since it first appeared this past August 2023. While there is so much that we do not know about the illness, there are a number of things that we do know and need to share. 

First and foremost, what is causing this respiratory illness in dogs ?  A viral infection ?  A bacterial infection ?  A mixed bag of bacteria + virus ?  If it is a bacteria, have we seen this bacteria before ?  Or is it a mutation of a known bacteria that is now more harmful ?  In truth, we do not know yet what is causing this unusual respiratory disease.   Plenty of theories and ideas and beliefs are emerging, but as of December 6th, we still do not know.   
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have identified an unknown and unusual bacteria in affected dogs through genetic testing.  However, it is not yet known if these bacteria are even responsible for the dogs’ respiratory disease.
Veterinary disease specialists at Texas A&M University have found pathogens (harmful bacteria) in ~75% of dogs that have the illness.  But no pathogens could be found at all in the other 25% of cases.   Puzzling …

Respiratory infections are fairly common in dogs, but this infection is unique in that it can lead to severe cases of pneumonia.   The symptoms resemble what we see with “kennel cough”:  coughing, fever, runny eyes and nose, sneezing, loss of appetite, feeling lethargic and weak.   Typically, dogs with kennel cough respond well to treatment in a matter of days.   However, many dogs with this unknown illness do not respond to the standard treatment for kennel cough, even with aggressive therapy over days to weeks.   When the current disease develops into pneumonia, a dog’s breathing becomes extremely difficult as the air sacs in the lungs may become filled with fluid, or even blood and pus.  There have been quite a few deaths as a result of the condition.

There is growing evidence that dogs that have NOT been vaccinated for other respiratory infections are at much greater risk of serious complications.   Dogs with other health issues that may result in a weakening of the body are at greater risk as well.  Puppies with still-developing immune (self-defense) systems are potentially more likely to get it once exposed.  Even short-nose breeds (Pugs, Pekingeses, etc) are more threatened, as are those dogs that spend a good deal of time in direct contact with other dogs, especially any exposure to another dog with an unknown respiratory condition.
Be mindful that if you hear a dog coughing, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the dog may have this atypical respiratory condition.  But consider, too, that the dog may be gagging on something it was chewing on or eating.  Consider that it could be an older dog with a heart condition.  Consider that it could be a very small dog with a trachea (windpipe) that collapses (like someone sucking in a paper straw) when it’s excited or active.  Consider it could be a dog that is tugging hard and ‘choking’ on its collar when walked on a leash.  

Very likely.  As already mentioned, there is growing evidence that dogs currently vaccinated against other respiratory infections may develop symptoms if exposed to a dog carrying the disease.   But these vaccinated dogs are expected to survive and recover from the infection.
The 4 primary respiratory diseases that we can vaccinate against are:  Bordetella and Parainfluenza (combined together in the vaccine that we typically give as a spray into the mouth) … Canine Flu / Influenza (there are 2 types, and our vaccine for K9 Flu protects against both types) … and to a lesser extent, Adenovirus 2 (in our Distemper-Parvo vaccine).
When you visit us at one of our clinics, we take your pet’s welfare very seriously.  Several of our team members bring their dogs (my little dog Josie included) to our clinics for the entire day, so we all share your concerns about risk of exposure.   
As recently as September 2022 through Easter 2023, our entire region dealt with a very serious canine respiratory epidemic that literally killed hundreds of dogs throughout the Piedmont region of North Carolina.   We even knew the pathogens that were responsible for the many illnesses and deaths:  Primarily, it was  Canine Flu / Influenza, combined with Bordetella and Parainfluenza.

We took the necessary precautions at that time, and we are continuing to put into place the same precautions.  If new information emerges for us to make additional changes, we will do whatever it takes to insure your pets (and our pets, too !) safety.

1)    If you bring your dog to us and it is showing even the slightest signs of an upper respiratory infection, you will be turned away immediately.  We never examine or treat dogs with ANY form of illness, and we absolutely never knowingly allow a dog with a possible contagious condition at one of our clinics.

2)    By the way, this is a good time to mention that if your pet is already sick, we do not give vaccines to sick pets.   No vaccines will help an already-infected dog (or cat). 

3)    While you do need to come to our check-in table to receive the paperwork before your pet can be seen, you may request to keep your pet in your vehicle until we are ready to provide your pet the requested services.  We can text you when your pet is ready to be seen.

4)    We can make visits to vaccinate your dog at your vehicle, but ONLY for vaccines.  For heartworm testing (requires a blood sample), your dog must be seen at one of our exam tables.  Furthermore, if we go to your vehicle to give vaccines, you will be fully responsible for holding and handling your pet.   And if we feel it is needed, you will be responsible for putting a muzzle on your dog.   Your vehicle is your pet’s territory, and I will not put my team members at risk of getting bitten.  If you cannot hold or handle your pet for us to give vaccines, it must be brought to an exam table. 

5)    We have “Do It Yourself” paper water bowls and water available.  No water bowls will be on the ground as we typically do, so we can reduce the chances of possible contamination.

There is no evidence at all of any contagion or connection with this disease with either Cats or People.
As of December 6th, there have been no known confirmed cases in North Carolina … but it will happen.
My favorite site to follow for any updates with this Atypical Canine Respiratory Disease is Worms & Germs Blog, created by Dr Scott Weese, a veterinarian and infectious disease specialist in Ontario, Canada.  Dr Weese posts quite frequently, tying together information as it becomes available from veterinary researchers and specialists, as well as providing his expert opinion into his commentary.  I have heard him speak at a veterinary conference before, and he is truly a gift to all of us dog owners during a challenging time such as this.

I will post additional information as it becomes available.

-Dr Bob Parrish   /   Carolina Value Pet Care

December 6, 2023