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Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), more familiarly known as “kennel cough,” is a highly contagious illness affecting the respiratory tract in dogs. All breeds and ages are susceptible. As the name “kennel cough” suggests, dogs at particular risk are those exposed to settings where multiple dogs are typically gathered or housed, such as kennels, shelters, and daycare facilities.

Several different types of bacteria and viruses can contribute to CIRDC, and dogs can be infected by two or more of these organisms at the same time. A few of the more commonly involved organisms include Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacterium) as well as canine parainfluenza virus and canine adenovirus type 2.

Organisms that can contribute to CIRDC

  • Canine parainfluenza virus*
  • Canine adenovirus type 2*
  • Canine influenza virus (subtypes H3N2 and H3N8)**
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus
  • Canine herpesvirus-1
  • Canine distemper virus*
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica**
  • Mycoplasma species
  • Streptococcus equis subspecies zooepidemicus

*Protection available through standard vaccines.
**Protection available through additional vaccines.

What are the signs of CIRDC?

The classic sign of CIRDC is a frequent, honking cough that comes on suddenly. This cough has also been described as gagging or retching, and it can involve froth that looks like vomit. Coughing generally worsens with activity or exercise, which can irritate the airways.

Even so, not all dogs with CIRDC will have a cough. Other common signs include sneezing and a runny nose or eyes.

In most cases of CIRDC, the illness is mild and dogs fully recover within 7 to 10 days. However, depending on the infecting organism(s) and the dog’s ability to fight them, some dogs may develop more severe signs like lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, productive cough, and rapid or labored breathing, which can signal that bacteria have infected the lungs (bacterial pneumonia) and immediate veterinary attention is needed.

Dogs in which canine distemper virus is one of the infecting organisms may also have gastrointestinal signs (e.g., vomiting or diarrhea), hardened footpads, and, as the disease progresses, neurologic signs (e.g., head tilt or circling behavior). These dogs, as well as puppies and older dogs with other health problems, are at greater risk of severe disease, and even death.

How is CIRDC spread?

Most dogs with CIRDC are contagious before they start showing signs. Because of this, the disease can be difficult to control. It can spread rapidly, leading to outbreaks—particularly in multiple-dog settings. Some CIRDC-associated organisms are also quite hardy, able to survive in the environment for weeks, making controlling spread of infection even more challenging.

Dogs can catch CIRDC through close or direct contact (e.g., licking or nuzzling) with infected dogs, breathing in cough or sneeze droplets from infected dogs, and exposure to droplet-contaminated items such as toys, bedding, people’s hands, or water bowls. The risk of infection is especially high when dogs are in close contact with other infected dogs for long periods of time.

If you suspect your dog has CIRDC, it is important to stop the disease from spreading by keeping the dog away from other dogs until fully recovered.

Can cats become infected too?

Yes, some of the CIRDC-associated bacteria/viruses (e.g., Bordetella bronchisepticaStreptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus, and canine influenza virus) can infect and cause illness in cats.

Do infected dogs need to avoid people too?

Not usually. Only one CIRDC-associated organism—Bordetella bronchiseptica—is known to infect people, and cases of dog-to-human transmission are extremely rare. Most reported cases have been in severely immunocompromised people.

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