“Kennel Cough”, what comes to mind when we see this word? Generally, we think of the “common cold” of the dog world that our little fur friends get when going to kennel or grooming facilities. In recent years, there has been a change in the name to illustrate the big picture of the disease more accurately: Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex or CIRDC.

There is not a single cause for CIRDC. It ranges from bacterial infections to viral infections, and there can be more to this disease than just a cough. With the recent surge of cases in the valley, knowing the ins and outs of this disease may help contain the spread of CIRDC and help keep our pets safe. Two primary causes of CIRDC we have seen are Mycoplasma and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Sick Dog

Bordetella, a bacterium, may sound familiar to many as this is often part of a yearly vaccine regimen. Bordetella bronchiseptica is generally considered one of the more severe variants in the Bordetella genus and is the primary species we vaccinate for.  Similar to the human flu (influenza), there are multiple species of Bordetella. Therefore, the preventative vaccination covers the species that are more easily spread and may be more severe. While vaccines can help with protecting our pets, there can be some breakthrough disease. However, symptoms can be less severe in pets that have been vaccinated compared to the symptoms of those who are unvaccinated.

Mycoplasma is another bacterial cause of CIRDC. The difference between the two bacteria is that some Mycoplasma species are “normal” in the oral cavity where they generally don’t cause problems. They begin to become an issue once they move into the lower respiratory tract; a place where it should not be. This exposure to the lungs can then result in signs of CIRDC.

So now that we know that there are multiple different causes of CIRDC, how do we identify which one your pet may have and what would be the best treatment recommendation? Management of symptoms and supportive care are standard recommendations. In many cases, CIRDC presents as a mild cough with or without nasal discharge and/or sneezing. These cases tend to self-resolve without intervention. In other cases, symptoms are more significant. These may include a honking cough with a productive wretch of frothy fluid at the end, nasal and/or ocular discharge, difficulty breathing, weakness, fever, and lethargy. With these more severe signs, we tend to intervene and recommend diagnostics to determine the severity of the CIRDC. X-rays combined with physical exam findings can help identify if CIRDC has progressed to pneumonia or bronchitis. In some cases, the cause of CIRDC-related pneumonia can be viral, and antibiotics are ineffective.  Some CIRDC-related pneumonia cases are caused by a secondary bacterial infection and respond to oral antibiotic therapy. We prefer pets remain at home for treatment due to the contagious nature of this disease but in severe cases hospitalization, IV fluid therapy and IV medications may be warranted.

As we know in the human world when someone has the common cold or the flu, it is spread from person to person through our saliva droplets when we cough, sneeze or even breathe. The same concept applies to any direct contact with a pet with CIRDC. It poses a risk of spreading the disease, and it can spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to have pets wear masks to prevent the spread. Instead, the recommendation is to keep them in quarantine; no contact with any other dogs/pets. Housemate dogs should be included in the quarantine, as the likelihood of them being sick and able to spread CIRDC is very high.

With the rise of CIRDC in recent months, we caution and recommend owners to take appropriate precautions if it is suspected that your pet has this disease. Limiting the spread of CIRDC through quarantine and isolation can and will be the best way to prevent this disease from spreading further and faster.