Canine infectious respiratory diseases are a common, often-misunderstood group of conditions. If your dog has been coughing, you may have wondered if they could catch a cold. The short answer is, “Yes,” although dogs don’t catch the same kind of cold viruses as humans. Many times a dog’s illness is short and subclinical, but canine respiratory diseases can pose serious health risks for your best friend, and can also be fatal.

Fortunately, the Alpine Animal Hospital team is well-versed in the prevention and treatment of these conditions. 

Types of canine respiratory diseases

Several different diseases fall under the umbrella of canine respiratory disease. They are all contagious, and are most often spread through close contact among infected or exposed dogs. Dogs can be exposed anywhere they are in close proximity, such as dog parks, animal shelters, grooming salons, or boarding facilities. Most commonly, respiratory disease is spread through nose-to-nose contact, and by infected droplets that pass between dogs. However, in some cases, disease can spread through shared water bowls, bedding, and people—which is why you should wash your hands after petting another dog. 

The most common canine infectious respiratory diseases include:

  • Canine distemper
  • Canine influenza virus (CIV)
  • Adenovirus type-2
  • Canine coronavirus
  • Bordetella (i.e., kennel cough)
  • Parainfluenza

With spring and Spring Break around the corner, you especially need to watch your pet for signs of Bordetella, which often increases at this time of year. Signs include an unmistakable loud cough, runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and low fever. Ensure you let your veterinarian know your dog’s symptoms before you take them for treatment, because of the disease’s contagious nature. Your dog may be treated with cough medicine, antibiotics to prevent secondary infection, and rest.

Although much has been made about coronavirus in animals this past year, the canine coronavirus (CCoV) is not the same as the human Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVD-19. There is no evidence that dogs can spread coronavirus to humans. 

Signs of canine infectious respiratory diseases

In many cases, these disease signs are similar, and it’s important to reach a diagnosis to protect other pets, and to treat your pet effectively. Respiratory diseases can be complicated to diagnose as they can be caused by several different organisms, so clinical signs may be varied from patient to patient. 

In addition, the incubation period for these diseases is quite long—from 2 to 10 days. This means that an infected dog can take up to 10 days to show illness signs, making it possible for a dog who is at a boarding facility or at the dog park to appear healthy, only to develop the illness days later.  

Canine infectious respiratory disease signs include:

  • Congestion
  • Slight difficulty breathing
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Mild fever
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Nasal discharge

In some cases, canine infectious respiratory diseases can progress to pneumonia or cause dangerously high fevers, especially in older dogs, puppies, or dogs with compromised immune systems. If your pet is symptomatic, you must isolate them immediately, and call for an appointment with the Alpine Animal Hospital team. 

Treatment of canine infectious respiratory diseases

In most cases, once your dog is diagnosed, treatment will consist of supportive care, including isolation from other dogs, plenty of rest, fluids and balanced nutrition, and careful monitoring. Although antibiotics are not effective against viruses, they may be prescribed in case of secondary infections. In most cases, the illness runs its course in 10 days to two weeks.

If your dog becomes extremely ill, hospitalization will be required. Common treatments include 24-hour monitoring, oxygen therapy, intravenous fluid therapy, and intravenous medications to treat pneumonia, secondary infections, or other more serious conditions. 

Prevention of canine infectious respiratory diseases

Fortunately, vaccination is available for canine respiratory diseases. Your Alpine Animal Hospital veterinarian will recommend a vaccine schedule based on your dog’s lifestyle, age, and overall health. The canine distemper vaccine is a core vaccine that is recommended for nearly every dog, since it is often fatal if contracted, especially in puppies. Dog owners whose dogs are regularly in contact with other dogs through boarding, dog parks, or shows should discuss the canine influenza and the Bordetella vaccines with their veterinarian. 

Vaccination is not completely protective, but if your dog is vaccinated, the severity and duration of respiratory illness is greatly reduced. 

Other ways to minimize risks include:

  • Avoid places where dogs are present, including dog shows, grooming salons, pet stores, boarding kennels, and daycare facilities.
  • Maintain your pet’s wellness checkups, and notify your veterinarian immediately of any changes in health or energy.
  • Prevent your pet from drinking out of communal water bowls, and from investigating pet waste.
  • Stay up-to-date on any canine respiratory disease outbreaks in your area.

Canine infectious respiratory diseases are here to stay. Fortunately, most dogs have mild signs and recover quickly. By being vigilant, proactive, and staying informed, you can minimize the risks to your dog. Your partners at Alpine Animal Hospital are here to help.