“New” Canine Respiratory Disease Outbreak – What Do I Do?

| December 8, 2023

In numerous provinces and states across North America, a respiratory disease is afflicting many dogs. Symptoms include prolonged coughing and, in severe cases, pneumonia. Many have categorized this as a novel disease, which would obviously be a cause for concern. Nevertheless, Dr. Scott Weese, a leading Canadian veterinarian specializing in infectious diseases and the Chief of Infection Control at University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, presents an alternative perspective on the situation. 

Is This a New Disease? 

Dr. Linda Jacobson, Senior Manager, Shelter Medicine Advancement at Toronto Humane Society, attended a recent webinar featuring Dr. Scott Weese. Based on current information, the likelihood of this being a new infection is considered quite low. 

There are likely to be a combination of factors at play when understanding the rise of respiratory illnesses in canines: 

  1. There are more dogs unvaccinated post-COVID because of backlogs of veterinary appointments. 
  2. There are more dogs that were not exposed to respiratory infections during COVID, so they didn’t build up a natural immunity. 
  3. There are more brachycephalic (short-faced) dogs (Pugs, French Bulldogs, American Bulldogs, etc); these dogs are more likely to develop severe respiratory infections. 
  4. There is a greater concern for pets because of the publicity around this possible outbreak, so pet parents may be bringing dogs in with mild infections that would not have gone to the vet normally. 
  5. There are several shelters that are severely overcrowded post COVID, that have had respiratory disease outbreaks, notably Strep Zoo infections. This is a direct consequence of the overcrowding, which leads to stress, more opportunities for contact, and less effective infection control measures. 

At Toronto Humane Society, we monitor canine respiratory disease on an ongoing basis and our figures show extremely low rates of infection in dogs in the shelter. 

What Should I Do as a Pet Parent?

If your dog has not received the kennel cough vaccine in the past year, vaccination is a good idea. This vaccine is given as a drop in the nose or mouth and is not part of the “core” vaccine for parvo and distemper viruses, which is an injection. Even for fully vaccinated dogs, taking additional precautions can further ensure your pet’s protection, regardless of whether this is a new infection or not. Here are our recommendations: 

  1. Ensure dogs are vaccinated, especially those that interact with other dogs, are very young or old, or have complicating factors such as existing respiratory conditions. 
  2. Assess the severity of coughing and seek veterinary attention if the dog is in a higher-risk group or exhibits strained breathing or lethargy. 
  3. Stay watchful but avoid unnecessary alarm. 

Although Dr. Weese says that current evidence does not point to a new disease, he highlights the importance of vaccinating pets, particularly seniors or young animals. His insights serve as a reminder for pet parents to stay vigilant, prioritize vaccinations, and promptly seek veterinary attention when necessary. 

If you require assistance in obtaining vaccines for your pet, please book an appointment at our Public Veterinary Services. We are here to offer comprehensive preventative care for your pet.