If you are a pet owner or have been following mainstream media, you have likely heard of a “mystery virus” that is sweeping the nation and killing dogs. While this virus is keeping pet owners and animal care professionals vigilant, it is not new, nor a mystery, nor generating notable reported cases locally. For several weeks, we had been attempting to speak with several veterinary professionals about the virus, but could not gain any conclusive or reportable information to share with our readers. On Dec. 5, we attended a virtual information session with Dr. Eve Pugh, DVM, CVA, CCRP, an emergency room veterinarian at Veterinary Emergency Group and her husband Jeris Pugh, owner of Martial Arfs dog training and fitness facility, both in Carle Place to learn about this “mystery virus” and how to best protect our dogs from it.
“We have all been hearing a lot in the media as it relates to a ‘new dog disease’ that has been spreading through different states,” Jeris Pugh said. “As owner of the Martial Arfs, we have a lot of clients who are concerned; I thought it would be best if we brought in a professional to speak to everybody about what she knows and what she’s been experiencing.”
Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), commonly known as kennel cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection affecting dogs. It is characterized by a group of viral and bacterial agents that cause inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. While often not life-threatening, CIRDC can lead to discomfort, persistent coughing, and a compromised immune system.
Dr. Eve Pugh, a 25-year veterinarian, has been following the medical updates and the published research, including reports published by J. Scott Weese, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College and a zoonotic disease/public health microbiologist at the University of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, whose research includes microbiome assessment, antimicrobial resistance and infection control.
“Weese said CIRDC has come to the forefront in the news right now, but it is a background disease; it’s there all the time,” Dr. Pugh said. “In my own research, I found information from 2010 talking about this, so this is not new.”
She added Weese has reported that CIRDC is being tracked, but they have not identified any new pathogens; it is still the same old pathogens.
Dr. Pugh said the current reports of CIRDC could be attributed to one of five scenarios:
• an outbreak by a new pathogen, not previously known (unfounded)
• an outbreak by the usual pathogens
• an unconnected, sporadic outbreak of the use usual pathogens,
• a slight increase in the baseline of run-of-the-mill viruses, similar to humans with the severity level of seasonal flu·
• normal disease activity that just has caught the media’s attention
CIRDC is primarily caused by a combination of viral and bacterial pathogens. The most common viral culprits include canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus type 2, and canine distemper virus. The primary bacterial contributors are Bordetella bronchiseptica and Mycoplasma spp. These agents often work synergistically, creating a more severe and prolonged illness.
The disease is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory secretions from infected dogs. This can occur through direct contact, such as sniffing or licking, or through exposure to contaminated surfaces like water bowls, toys, and shared spaces in kennels or dog parks. Airborne transmission is possible, making CIRDC a significant concern in places with a high concentration of dogs.
“The incubation period is usually two to three days; [the dog gets the virus], but they do not show signs for two to three days, but it can be up to four to five weeks depending on the type what which pathogen we’re talking about,” Dr. Pugh said. “It’s usually self limiting, meaning a lot of the dogs don’t need any treatment at all.”
The clinical signs of CIRDC closely resemble those of a common cold in humans. Dogs with kennel cough typically exhibit a persistent dry, hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by a nasal discharge. Other symptoms may include sneezing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and in severe cases, fever. While most cases are mild, complications can arise, especially in puppies, elderly dogs, or those with weakened immune systems.
Veterinarians diagnose CIRDC based on clinical signs, history of recent exposure to other dogs, and sometimes through laboratory tests. Nasal and throat swabs may be collected to identify specific pathogens. The diagnosis is made based on clinical presentation and history.
“I work in a very busy [veterinary emergency room] in the middle of Nassau County; I can tell you that in the past six months, I have not seen any increase, zero increase in respiratory diseases coming through the door, or severe respiratory diseases going through the door,” Dr. Pugh said. “That’s not exact science, but I would say that I’m probably on the pulse of this situation in terms of if the numbers were going up, I would see them walking through the door.”
Pugh said her veterinary group is, of course, erring on the side of caution and are being vigilant and stocking up on supplies that might be necessary, should an outbreak occur.
Treatment for kennel cough is generally supportive and focuses on managing symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bacterial component is suspected, targeting agents like Bordetella. Cough suppressants and anti-inflammatory medications can provide relief. Rest and isolation from other dogs are crucial to prevent further spread. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required.
Vaccination is a key preventive measure against CIRDC. The kennel cough vaccine often includes protection against Bordetella bronchiseptica and other viral components. Regular boosters are recommended for dogs in high-risk environments, such as boarding facilities or dog shows. Good hygiene practices, such as regular cleaning of shared spaces and equipment, also help minimize the risk of transmission.
Places where dogs congregate, such as boarding kennels, shelters, and dog parks, pose a higher risk for transmission. It’s essential for pet owners and caregivers to be vigilant in such environments, ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date, and sick dogs are promptly isolated.
Most dogs recover fully from kennel cough with proper care and management of symptoms. Complications can arise, especially in immunocompromised dogs (puppies, older dogs, dogs with diabetes and other underlying health conditions). It’s crucial to seek veterinary attention if the cough persists or worsens.
CIRDC is a prevalent and contagious condition that demands attention in the canine community. Responsible pet ownership, including regular vaccinations, good hygiene practices, and prompt veterinary care, plays a crucial role in preventing the spread of CIRDC and ensuring the well-being of our canine companions.
Dr. Pugh suggested that pet parents always stay vigilant and use reputable and accredited sources to learn about any disease or illness, such as American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org) or the New York State Veterinary Medical Society (www.nysvms.org) to stay informed, including your own pet’s veterinary professional.
To view the entire recording with the Pughs, visit the Martial Arfs Facebook page (www.facebook.com/martialarfs) and click on click on the videos tab.