- South Florida is experiencing an outbreak of Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, or “kennel cough.”
- Most cases of the disease are mild, but worsening symptoms could develop into pneumonia.
- Health experts say keeping dogs up-to-date on vaccines is the best protection.
With COVID-19 still on the mind of many Americans, there’s another virus spreading around south Florida affecting a different segment of the population: dogs.
Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, also known as “kennel cough” or “canine cough,” is caused by a group of viruses and bacteria, including the flu, that affects the respiratory tract of dogs. It can also be easily spread, whether dogs live in a home or awaiting adoption.
While the recent outbreak has been limited to South Florida, the illness can be found throughout the country at any given time, according to José Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“We’ll see a case here and there, but then there are times where outbreaks will occur in different areas of the country at different moments,” Arce told USA TODAY.
Here is everything you need to know about CIRDC:
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How does CIRDC spread?
Similar to how COVID-19 spreads, CIRDC easily spreads whenever dogs are in close contact, whether it be at a dog park, a play date, groomer, dog events and with dogs that are in common places like shelters. Arce said another way the virus could spread is if a dog plays with a toy and a different dog then uses the same toy.
Maria Serrano, chief veterinarian at the Miami-Dade County Animal Services, said the outbreak in South Florida likely came from a dog that entered a shelter.
“Respiratory diseases that are transmitted through aerosolized droplets are just very, very contagious,” Serrano said.
The disease does not affect humans.
What are the symptoms of CIRDC?
Common symptoms of CIRDC include coughing and sneezing, as well as discharge coming from the nose. As the disease develops, dogs may have difficulty breathing and may have secretions coming out of their nose and eyes, Arce said.
Symptoms will usually appear around five days after exposure, and mild cases will usually last up to 10 days. Dogs could be tested by veterinarians to see if they have the disease.
Some dogs may not show any symptoms, but they could still carry the disease and can still spread it.
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How sick do dogs get from CIRDC?
Most cases of CIRDC are mild, but the disease can worsen and dogs can develop pneumonia if left unattended or depending on the condition. Puppies, older dogs or immunocompromised dogs are the most susceptible to the virus and worsening symptoms.
“Not attended, it can even be the cause of death,” Arce said.
Dogs with worsening symptoms can be hospitalized and treated with anti-viral medicine.
There’s a CIRDC outbreak in Florida, can it spread nationwide? How worried should dog owners be?
In March, Miami-Dade County health officials noticed there was an increased amount of dogs being infected with CIRDC. Ultimately, animal servicers decided on March 23 to indefinitely suspend dog adoptions, adoption events and wellness clinics performing spay and neuter surgeries, microchipping and vaccinations. Serrano said a quick response to the disease helped contain it.
“So far, it’s going pretty well. The cases are already kind of decreasing. We’re still separating the populations and making sure we leave the dogs at least 10 days in isolation to make sure that we have less risks of transmission to other dogs,” Serrano said. “I think we acted very promptly.”
Even though cases are decreasing, the news of the outbreak could cause fear in dog owners in nearby cities and states.
However, Arce said dog owners shouldn’t be worried. The disease has been around for nearly five decades, and it’s around throughout the year. It’s only when health officials say there’s an outbreak of the virus in a certain area is when dog owners should take caution.
“Unless the outbreak is in an area where I commonly would take my dog for a walk or to a park or something, I wouldn’t be highly concerned. This is something that’s always around,” he said. “You will hear from the public health officials in your area.
“When it’s really severe, you will see articles everywhere,” Arce said.
How do you keep your dog safe?
Serrano and Arce said dog owners should make sure their dog is up to date on its vaccines. There isn’t a vaccine dedicated to preventing illness from CIRDC as it is “not a vaccine-preventable condition” according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.
However, Serrano added vaccines can partially protect respiratory systems while also strengthening immune systems.
Still, she recommends if there is an outbreak, restrain dogs from having “nose-to-nose” contact with each other.
Arce said there really isn’t much of a peak season of the disease, but the warm summer months when there are more dogs outside could be a time period when the disease can easily spread. But as long as the dog is in good health, there shouldn’t be much worry. Most cases are mild and self-limiting.
“I would just be made sure that my dog’s vaccinations are up to date. That’s the key,” Arce said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.