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Protecting your dog against new respiratory illness


Kennel cough is nothing new for dogs. It can spread when multiple dogs are housed together like at kennels, shelters, or daycare facilities.

A new illness making its way through the U.S. seems to share some similarities with kennel cough according to Jessica Pritchard. She’s a clinical assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at the UW School of veterinary medicine.

“What's different about this is that the dogs seem to be potentially sicker or coughing a lot longer than they typically do with what we've called kennel cough, or CIRDC, in the past,” said Pritchard.

Pritchard says there are a couple things to look out for.

Coughing, fever, lethargy, changes in appetite, difficulty breathing, or discharge from your dogs’ eyes or nose are all symptoms of the disease.

This illness seems to be more resistant to the normal kennel cough treatment.

Pritchard recommends calling your vet if you notice these symptoms in your dog.

“The difficult thing is that a lot of these parts of CIRDC is complex. There are viral causes and bacterial causes. Some dogs can develop a secondary bacterial pneumonia, so those dogs would need antibiotics. But the dogs that have a viral infection really need support and time to recover,” said Pritchard. “We don't treat them with antivirals. Because of the nature of most of these infections they're kind of past the point of those helping by the time we know that they're sick.”

Researchers are looking into a pathogen as the possible source of this illness.

In the meantime, Pritchard recommends taking precautions with dogs. She says the good news is that a lot of the health lessons humans learned during the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to this respiratory illness in dogs.

“I think we can all take comfort that we've done this. Because of COVID we know what to do. If you're sick, stay home. The same goes for your dog,” she said. “Isolate your dog if it's sick, don't keep it around other dogs. Talk to your doctor, so talk to your vet if you're feeling ill and get their advice on what to do, and then get the vaccines that are available for the things that we can prevent in dogs.”

There have been confirmed cases in Illinois, but none so far in Wisconsin or Michigan.

Some dogs have been dying from the illness.

Pritchard says young puppies, senior dogs, or those with other health issues are more at risk for severe cases.

“Some dogs have always died from CIRDC and kennel cough. It's always been a risk. We know it's been a low risk, but it's been present,” said Pritchard. “I think that we just, as a veterinary community, also haven't seen a lot of these outbreaks in the last few years.”

There have been cases in at least 14 states including Illinois, but no confirmed cases so far in Wisconsin or Michigan.

Pritchard recommends avoiding dog parks, kennels, or other places where dogs congregate for long periods of time.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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