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November 29, 2023 - Respiratory Disease in Dogs: How Veterinarians Can Help

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MDARD and MSU VDL Encourage Dog Owners to Work with Their Veterinarians to Best Protect their Pets from Respiratory Illnesses

For immediate release: November 29, 2023
MDARD media contacts: Jennifer Holton, 517-242-2575 or Chelsea Lewis-Parisio, 517-331-1151
MSU VDL media contact: Courtney Chapin, 517-432-5832

At this time, MDARD has not received any reports of atypical canine infectious respiratory illness in Michigan dogs

LANSING, MI— As reports and concerns over an atypical canine infectious respiratory illness affecting dogs across the nation continue to grow, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (MSU VDL) encourage dog owners to remain vigilant regarding their pet’s health and to work closely with their veterinarian if they notice signs of illness. There are multiple causes of infectious respiratory diseases in dogs, many of which can be prevented or minimized through routine vaccination or timely veterinary care.

“While the exact cause of this illness remains unknown, taking some basic steps to prevent a dog’s exposure to harmful germs can go a long way to protecting their overall health,” said State Veterinarian Nora Wineland, DVM, MS, DACVPM. “If owners notice respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, sneezing, or nasal discharge) in their dogs, it is important to reach out to their veterinarian early on in their animal’s illness so diagnostic testing can be completed and an appropriate course of treatment can begin.”

In general, the illness is contagious, spreading among dogs that have contact with other dogs. The only way to distinguish between the multiple causes of infectious respiratory disease in dogs is through early diagnostic testing. Signs of the disease include coughing, sneezing, nasal and/or eye discharge, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Coughing may persist for weeks to months, and severe forms of the disease can progress to life-threatening pneumonia.

To date, suspected cases of the disease have been reported in several states. For a case to be considered suspect for this illness, diagnostic testing is required to rule out other common causes. If veterinarians are interested in pursuing testing for an animal, they can contact the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for advice and assistance at 517-353-1683.

“Because common respiratory illnesses (i.e., kennel cough) in dogs is generally self-limiting, veterinarians may not routinely perform diagnostic testing. However, performing testing early on can serve multiple purposes,” said MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director Kimberly Dodd, DVM, MS, PhD. “If a more common cause of illness is found, it may give owners peace of mind. Based on the diagnosis, clinicians can better predict the course of illness and administer antibiotics when warranted. If routine diagnostics are negative, having acute samples can help us as we try to identify the cause of this atypical respiratory illness.”

To best keep Michigan’s dogs safe and healthy, MDARD strongly encourages owners to:

  • Work with their veterinarian to ensure their dog is up to date on routine vaccinations.
  • Make sure their dog is fully vaccinated before interacting with other dogs.
  • Avoid food and water bowls shared by multiple unknown dogs.
  • Contact their veterinarian if their dog is exhibiting any signs of illness and keep their dog at home and away from other dogs.
  • Keep their dog away from dogs that are sick or whose vaccination status is unknown.

Also, MDARD is encouraging animal shelter and kennel staff to follow their intake and vaccination protocols when bringing in new dogs and continue to follow required isolation protocols and recommended cleaning/disinfection procedures for surfaces and equipment.

MDARD and the MSU VDL will continue to monitor the situation surrounding this disease and will provide updates as more is learned. If dogs are exhibiting signs of respiratory illness, it is best to keep them at home and away from other dogs and contact your veterinarian.

Also, veterinarians are advised to contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 if unusual or reportable conditions in animals are seen.

For more information regarding this atypical canine infectious respiratory illness, please contact your veterinarian or visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website.

Previous Updates

November 22, 2023 - Canine Respiratory Illness Reported in Several States
​November 21, 2023 - Reports of Respiratory Disease in Dogs Calls for Diagnostic Testing

Multiple media outlets are reporting outbreaks of a serious, atypical infectious respiratory disease in dogs that in rare cases, may become rapidly fatal. Testing for common respiratory pathogens has not revealed a cause, so veterinarians and veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the country are working with state and federal agencies to perform additional testing for less common, and even potentially novel, pathogens.

It is important to understand that respiratory illness in dogs, just as in people, may be caused by a multitude of bacteria and/or viruses, alone or in combination. We see this every year during the fall, as we test humans for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2, among other causes of our seasonal respiratory diseases.

“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.

Signs of illness in typical cases of infectious respiratory disease in dogs include cough, runny nose, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. In the recent reports of more severe illness, signs include cough and difficulty breathing. Pet owners who suspect that their dog may be sick should contact their veterinarian and keep their dog at home and away from other dogs.

Diagnostic testing should be considered at early stages of illness, to rule out the more common causes of disease, or to identify dogs who may require additional testing.

“Although most cases of canine infectious respiratory disease are self-limiting with proper management, some dogs can develop a more serious form of illness, especially when bacterial pathogens are involved,” says Rinosh Mani, bacteriology section chief at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “It is important to do diagnostic testing as early as possible so that proper antibiotic therapy can be initiated.”

Testing is available at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. 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 also was recently selected as the implementing partner for the United States Department of Agriculture’s new Unusual Morbidity/Mortality Event program, established to help chase down diagnoses when initial diagnostic tests fail to identify a cause for significant illness or deaths in animals. The Laboratory’s role is to help facilitate additional testing for less common or novel pathogens. The program is currently supporting efforts across the country to identify a cause for the elevated number of dogs with respiratory clinical signs.

Veterinarians or diagnosticians who know of or suspect an Unusual Morbidity/Mortality Event can contact the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (517.353.1683) or USDA (

One of the most important things owners can do to keep pets safe is to keep their pets’ vaccinations current. Vaccines are available for the most common infectious agents causing canine infectious respiratory disease (sometimes referred to as kennel cough). Until the cause of the current circulating disease is identified, it is unknown whether the disease is preventable by vaccination.

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 Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory 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 countries.