Veterinarians warn against canine respiratory illness

By Lori McDonald

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Veterinarians in Jackson County have been treating a virus in an increased number of dogs this summer.

Amy Birk, practice manager at Seymour Animal Hospital, said the virus is a canine infectious respiratory disease causing upper respiratory issues, better known as kennel cough.

“There are different strains of upper respiratory viruses, and the vaccine only covers certain strains, and this one falls outside of those strains,” Birk said. “There are some upper respiratory illnesses that can get pretty serious and can go into pneumonia, just like with people.”

The outbreak has been happening in multiple states, such as Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky and others.

“Any time there are dogs that congregate together, there is a chance for illnesses to spread, just like kids in day care or in school,” she said. “Symptoms include coughing, sneezing and sometimes they’ll hack up phlegm and cough so much they vomit.”

Birk said the No. 1 thing is to make sure your dog is up to date on all of its vaccinations, including the Bordetella vaccine and canine influenza vaccine.

“It’s also important to make sure the facility you take your dog to (boarding, day care and grooming) is checking to make sure each dog there is up to date on vaccinations,” she said.

Birk has spoken to a number of boarding and day care facilities and gone over cleaning protocols.

“We want to make sure they are using the correct cleaners since some of these virus germs can only be disinfected by certain types of cleaners,” she said. “We’ve also let the various facilities know that we are here to support them if they have any questions.”

The first thing to do if your dog is displaying any symptoms is to call your vet, Birk said.

“Also, make sure you quarantine your dog for two weeks since they cannot be around other dogs, but we want people to know this is not canine COVID-19,” she said.

Dr. Paul Rennekamp, veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Hospital, in Seymour, said they have been seeing one to two pets per day with a dry cough for the past four or five weeks.

“I see an outbreak like this every other year, and generally, the outbreak resolves in four to six weeks,” he said. “So hopefully, we are nearing the end of this outbreak.”

Rennekamp said it is very unlikely for kennel cough to be life-threatening, and dogs resolve from symptoms, typically with medication from the veterinarian, in five to 10 days.

“The virus is contagious to other dogs in the house but very unlikely to be spread by cats,” he said. “It’s important for people to remember that even if dogs are vaccinated, they can still become infected.”

Rennekamp said if a vaccinated dog contracts kennel cough, the symptoms and duration of the illness should be less severe.

A dog that has kennel cough should avoid the kennel for at least one week once it has started medication to prevent infection to other animals, he said.

Dr. Steve Sunbury, veterinarian at Seymour Animal Hospital, said he would absolutely call this an outbreak and said they have seen more cases this summer than he has seen during any time span in his career.

The vast majority of the cases have had contact either at a boarding facility, doggy day care or groomer or have had contact with an animal that has been there and brought it home, Sunbury said.

“The common scenario is we’ve got multiple dogs from other areas all in one small setting and they are exposing each other to what might be some of the normal organisms their bodies are used to,” he said. “But other animals are used to other ones and the immune system is getting bombarded with lots of exposure.”

He said dogs are typically stressed in those situations at groomers or other group settings and are either very nervous or very excited.

“Stress tends to weaken the animal’s immune system a little and makes them more susceptible,” Sunbury said. “So the combination of lots of animals, smaller area and stress, that’s kind of the secret recipe.”

He said there has been a lot of testing, and with a handful of dogs, the results have come back positive as Bordetella for some. Nationwide, some of the results have come back as Mycoplasma and some as Pasteurella, and there are no vaccines for those.

“I believe some of the kennels, doggy day cares and groomers have done some temporary shutdowns to disinfect and air out and whatnot, so I think that has helped to some degree,” he said.

He stressed the importance of pet owners making sure their dog is up to date on vaccinations.

“The tricky part is there are core vaccines and then there are other vaccines that not every dog really needs,” he said. “Dogs that will be going to a kennel, doggy day care or a groomer do need those additional vaccines, including Bordetella, and canine influenza, which there are two strains of.”

This is one of several organisms that have been around for a long time, and there happened to be a really bad outbreak this summer, Sunbury said.

Unfortunately, there are 10 or 12 different organisms that can cause this canine infectious respiratory disease or kennel cough, he said.

“We have vaccines against half of those, so there are still animals coming down with it that have been vaccinated,” he said. “The animals that have been vaccinated tend to have a lesser case of it and respond faster.”

Sunbury said he can only hope this is winding down, but they are still seeing and diagnosing multiple cases a day. It may have slowed down just a little, but it’s still a big issue.