A New Dog Respiratory Illness Continues to Spread in U.S.

Last Updated: March 27, 2024
New Dog Respiratory Illness

Throughout 2023, reports of a mysterious new respiratory illness have occurred. It continues to spread, causing concern among vets and dog owners. Some are referring to this illness as "Canine COVID." But in professional circles, it's known as Atypical Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (aCIRDC).

This disease has no known cause as of January 2024. While respiratory illnesses like kennel cough are common, aCIRDC is different. It presents more serious symptoms and can be fatal. Here's what we know.

How Common is aCIRDC?

Fortunately, aCIRDC hasn't reached pandemic-level spread. But, the many unknowns about this disease present many hurdles for vets during treatment. Pair that with its relative under-the-radar status, and it continues to spread. As of January 2024, there are reports of aCIRDC in at least 19 states.

These include:

  • Colorado
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinoise
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

The exact number of cases nationwide is unknown. No national database currently exists, and state reporting requirements for vets are highly variable. Many experts believe the spread could be broader, and many animal health officials urge owners to take extra precautions. Some cities are canceling dog events, even if there are no reported cases in the area.

Many officials in states with no confirmed cases suspect that the disease is present, but a lack of reporting requirements makes it difficult to know for sure. For example, officials in Arizona theorize that the disease already made its rounds in the state.

What Causes aDIRDC?

The exact cause of aDIRDC is still under investigation. Veterinarians don't know if it's the byproduct of bacterial infection, viruses or fungi. However, researchers are searching for an answer. Teams in various states are working to unlock the source of the disease in hopes of developing more efficient treatments.

Oregon researchers believe the illness is closely related to standard canine infectious respiratory diseases like kennel cough. There are at least nine different pathogens linked to Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), and infection from multiple viral agents is common. Some theorize that aDIRDC could be similar to CIRDC outbreaks but at higher pathogen concentrations.

Like other respiratory diseases, aDIRDC is thought to spread via respiratory droplets. Therefore, dogs with a higher risk of infection frequently travel and spend considerable time among other dogs. Spending time at parks or boarding facilities significantly increases the risk of infection.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of aDIRDC are similar to other conditions like kennel cough. However, aDIRDC is more persistent and can progress to dangerous states.

Generally, the disease starts with mild-moderate tracheobronchitis. Tracheobronchitis is inflammation of the airways. It causes dogs to cough and sneeze. You will likely see mucous discharge from the nose and an accumulation of mucous in the back of the throat. Many dogs will cough up phlegm.

These symptoms can last for six to eight weeks.

Some dogs will progress to chronic pneumonia. Fluids accumulate in the lungs, leading to respiratory distress. What's worrying about aDIRDC is that the pneumonia it causes is resistant to antimicrobials. Dogs often don't respond to treatment, increasing the risk of rapid pneumonia.

In rare cases, dogs with aDIRDC will have acute pneumonia. When this occurs, dogs experience a rapid onset of respiratory distress. These symptoms can worsen in a relatively short time, resulting in death in 24 to 36 hours. Fortunately, deaths are still rare. But they are a risk you shouldn't ignore.

What Dogs Are at Risk?

Any dog can get aDIRDC. As mentioned earlier, the nature of the disease and its spread puts social dogs at a higher risk. Any canine that spends time surrounded by others could become a victim of its contagious nature.

While research is ongoing, experts believe dogs with pre-existing chronic respiratory issues have the most difficulty with aDIRDC. Existing respiratory diseases are more likely to develop pneumonia.

Reported cases of death often come from dogs with existing health problems. Therefore, some veterinary professionals believe that senior dogs, those with weakened immune systems and those with chronic respiratory illness are at the highest risk of fatal cases of aDIRDC.

How Do Vets Diagnose aDIRDC?

Diagnostic processes are evolving as we learn more about this disease. Generally, vets will examine dogs and perform testing to screen for known pathogens. This process typically involves doing a nasal swab that vets can then send out to diagnostic centers.

There are no official guidelines for diagnosing aDIRDC, but vets will look at current symptoms and analyze the screening panel to gain more insight into what's happening. Once they rule out known respiratory pathogens, vets can make a diagnosis and proceed with treatment.

How is aDIRDC Treated?

Unfortunately, there's no cure available. We still know very little about aDIRDC. Therefore, vets approach treatment based on the dog's symptoms.

Standard care is typical. Vets will instruct owners to keep their dogs hydrated and to practice social distancing to minimize the spread of the disease. Depending on the symptoms present, vets may also prescribe additional medication.

These include cough suppressants, saline nebulization, oxygen therapy, fluids or antimicrobials.

This disease requires a watchful eye. Because there's a chronic and acute pneumonia risk, it's important to keep vets updated about a dog's condition. Treatment techniques may change as the disease progresses and symptoms evolve.

Protecting Your Dog Against aDIRDC

While this new mysterious illness is worrying, vets recommend that dog owners not panic. Despite the disease's COVID-related nickname, aDIRDC is not at pandemic levels. We're still learning about it and its effects on dogs, but vets recommend staying calm while taking additional measures to protect your furry friend.

The first thing to do is reflect on possible sources of exposure and your dog's susceptibility to illness. Canines who frequent boarding facilities and crowded parks are at a higher risk. Exercise caution around dogs with visible symptoms.

It's also wise to discuss vaccinations with your vet. No official vaccine for aDIRDC exists. However, experts recommend getting your dog up to date on routine vaccinations. More specifically, focus on the DAP2 and Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine.

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