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Ask Dr. Jenn: I've heard about a new mystery dog disease. Is it safe to board my dog?

I have to board my dog for a week, but I am concerned. I have heard news reports of a deadly disease and I am worried he will get sick. Should I cancel my trip?

December 11, 2023 4 min read
Ask Dr. Jenn: I've heard about a new mystery dog disease. Is it safe to board my dog?

I have seen the news stories and understand why you are concerned. Let me share some facts to help lessen your fears.

Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), also known as kennel cough, is a fairly common condition in dogs. It is caused by several different viruses and bacteria and spreads easily from dog to dog through close contact. In most dogs, kennel cough causes a mild illness and is self-limiting. You may see signs such as a dry cough, a decrease in appetite, and lethargy for a few days. The majority of dogs will recover on their own without treatment.

Some dogs will become seriously ill from CIRDC. It can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, and death. Usually, the most seriously infected dogs are either older or immunocompromised. However, occasionally an otherwise young and healthy dog may become very sick from CIRDC.

The new respiratory disease that has been reported in the local and national news is a severe form of kennel cough. It is thought to be caused by a new strain of bacteria and does not respond to our typical antibiotics. Veterinary labs across the country are collecting samples to learn more about this condition so that treatment and vaccines can be developed.

The good news is that only a small percentage of dogs will become very sick. Most dogs have strong immune systems that will fight off the bacteria before it can cause severe illness. More good news is that, although the disease has been seen throughout the US, it seems to be found in pockets and is not widespread.

To help protect your dog from getting sick from CIRDC, make sure he is up to date on his vaccinations. In addition to his core vaccines (rabies, distemper/parvo/parainfluenza), he should receive a kennel cough vaccination. Kennel cough vaccines provide immunity to Bordetella and other upper respiratory pathogens, depending on the vaccine. The best protection occurs when the vaccine is given through the mucus membranes – either in the nose or mouth – and not an injection under the skin. Although many boarding facilities will accept the vaccine as being current if vaccinated even hours before entering the facility, the strongest immunity occurs seven to fourteen days after the vaccine has been given. Plan ahead and make sure your dog receives his kennel cough vaccine at least two weeks before boarding. The vaccine will not protect against every form of CIRDC, but it will help protect your dog from getting a more serious secondary infection. It may be a good idea to have your dog vaccinated against canine influenza as well, especially if you are boarding your dog in an urban area, where flu outbreaks are more likely to occur.

Vaccines are the first step in prevention. Another important part of protecting your pet is to limit exposure to pathogens. Make sure your boarding kennel has an isolation area for sick dogs and a protocol in place for disinfecting the facility. Dogs should not be sharing toys or water bowls. If they have playtime with other dogs, the groups should be smaller and only include healthy and vaccinated dogs. Avoid dog parks as there is no way to control the vaccine and health status of other dogs.

Keep informed on whether there is an uptick in CIRDC in your area. If so, consult with your veterinarian on the overall health of your dog and what precautions to take.

If you are not comfortable boarding your dog, or if there is an outbreak in the area, you may want to consider other options. You may be able to take your dog with you on your trip or find a good pet sitter. Work with your veterinarian to figure out the best option for you and your pet.

If you board your dog and he starts to develop a cough shortly after, keep him away from other dogs for at least one week beyond the resolution of his illness. Most dogs will only have a nagging cough that may linger for one to two weeks and do not require treatment. However, if the cough is keeping him up at night, if he is lethargic, feverish, not eating, or develops thick nasal discharge, consult your veterinarian right away.

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