Posted October 8, 2021

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Media reports about outbreaks of infectious respiratory disease in dogs from coast to coast seem to be popping up daily. Dog parks closed. Grooming, boarding, and doggy day care facilities closed. What’s going on?

Stephan Carey, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, recently answered questions about kennel cough and described how the uptick in cases may be best explained by the increased commingling of dogs as COVID restrictions have relaxed and people resumed activities outside the home. He advises that one of the most important things owners can do to keep pets safe is to keep pets’ vaccinations current. Vaccines are available for the most common factors causing kennel cough, but not all.

Something to keep in mind about respiratory diseases in dogs is that just like in humans, there are multiple bacteria and viruses that cause nearly identical clinical signs.

“The only way to know, for sure, what’s causing illness in a particular animal or circulating in a group of animals, is to perform diagnostic testing,” explains Roger Maes, virology section chief at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “Pathogens that can cause or contribute to respiratory disease in dogs include canine influenza virus, canine adenovirus-2, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpesvirus-1, canine parainfluenza virus-2, canine pneumovirus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma species and other types of bacteria.”

Signs of illness include cough, runny nose, fever, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Some animals may have asymptomatic infections (no signs of illness). Any pet owner who suspects that their dog may be sick should see their veterinarian and keep their dog at home and away from other dogs.

“Dogs can be contagious before owners know they are sick because they can shed viral and bacterial pathogens during the incubation stage, before showing any clinical signs,” says Rinosh Mani, bacteriology section chief at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “Although with proper management the disease is self-limiting in most cases, some dogs can develop a more serious form of illness, especially when bacterial pathogens are involved. It is important to do diagnostic testing as early as possible so that proper antibiotic therapy can be initiated.”

“Testing within the first few days of illness is also important because the shedding of pathogens is rather limited in duration,” adds Maes. “In the case of some viral infections, testing after an animal has been ill for a week or more can yield negative results because the virus is no longer present.”

Testing is available at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory as well as other laboratories. Your veterinarian can recommend testing specific to your pet based on clinical signs and history. Veterinarians with questions about testing, including test options, are encouraged to call the Laboratory for advice and assistance.

The MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, a service unit in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, is a premier, full-service, fully accredited veterinary diagnostic laboratory. On average, the lab performs one million tests per year for more than 300,000 animals. The MSU VDL is a member of key federal networks charged with protecting human and animal health, and their core diagnostics, innovative solutions, and expert service have earned them clients in all 50 states, U.S. territories, and more than 25 foreign countries.