With the pandemic struggles of this past year, you may have researched and learned a lot about human respiratory diseases—perhaps more than you ever wanted to know. COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) in humans, has become a much talked about respiratory disease. Did you know that dogs can also catch certain respiratory diseases, all highly contagious, and some life-threatening?

You may have heard your dog or cat cough and wondered if they had a cold. Pets do catch colds, but the viruses that cause respiratory diseases in animals are not the same ones in humans, including COVID-19. Because canine respiratory diseases are so contagious, but preventable, the Otay Pet Vets team is sharing the following information about these diseases.

Canine respiratory diseases: How many types?

The most common canine respiratory diseases include:

  • Canine distemper This severe viral infection can affect many of your dog’s organs, most often the respiratory tract, but also the gastrointestinal tract and the neurologic system. Distemper can progress to pneumonia, and is often fatal, especially in puppies.
  • Canine influenza — Canine influenza (CIV) has been recently identified in dogs. CIV produces flu-like symptoms similar to those in humans. Complications, such as pneumonia, can occur, and the disease can be fatal.
  • Bordetella — Bordetella infection is also referred to as kennel cough, because the disease often sweeps through facilities where many dogs are kept in close quarters, such as boarding kennels. Bordetella causes inflammation and infection of the trachea and windpipe, and produces a distinctive, loud, honking cough.
  • Parainfluenza — Canine parainfluenza is another extremely contagious viral respiratory infection that is known for spreading quickly when dogs are crowded together with other exposed or infected dogs, such as a dog show or boarding facility.
  • Canine coronavirus — Canine coronavirus (CCoV) is not the same as the human COVID-19 virus, and no evidence exists that dogs can spread coronavirus to people. In dogs, the virus causes an acute upper respiratory infection, sometimes with secondary respiratory infections.
  • Adenovirus type 2 — Canine adenovirus is caused by a virus related to the canine hepatitis virus. This severe respiratory infection is transmitted through respiratory secretions.

Respiratory disease in dogs: Know the signs

Most respiratory infections in dogs share similar symptoms, so an accurate diagnosis, which may require extra testing, is crucial. Your veterinarian needs to know the specific disease that is affecting your dog before they can determine a treatment and prevent the disease from spreading.

Canine infectious respiratory disease signs include:

  • Nasal congestion and discharge
  • Slight difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Mild fever
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Runny eyes

Some canine respiratory diseases are subclinical, meaning your dog has no obvious signs that they are infected. Most of the diseases have a 2- to 10-day incubation period, so a dog boarding or at the dog park can appear healthy, but be spreading disease before they become ill days later.

These diseases can progress to pneumonia, when your dog will show worsening signs, including fast or difficult breathing and a more serious cough, and possible collapse.

If your pet is experiencing any of these signs, they need to be seen promptly by our veterinary team.

Canine respiratory disease: Can it be treated?

In many cases, your dog who has been diagnosed with a respiratory disease can recover at home with supportive care, rest, and good nutrition. However, because canine respiratory diseases are so highly contagious, you should isolate them until they are fully recovered. If your dog becomes extremely ill, they may require hospitalization, where they can be treated with oxygen and intravenous fluid therapies, and medication. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, but may be prescribed to prevent secondary infections.

Respiratory diseases in dogs: Protect and vaccinate

Since these diseases are more common in boarding facilities, dog parks, and other areas where dogs gather and have contact, you may feel that your best protection would be keeping your dog at home. That is not necessary, of course, but be vigilant when exposing your dog to other dogs. Only board them at a trusted facility, and avoid sharing bowls, toys, and other items.

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Despite their severity and level of contagion, canine infectious respiratory diseases are preventable with vaccinations, including the canine distemper vaccine, considered a core vaccine that all dogs should receive. Vaccines, which can be administered by injection, intranasally, or orally, also are available for parainfluenza, Bordetella, and canine Influenza. Vaccination cannot prevent all respiratory infections, but a vaccinated dog who contracts the disease is less likely to experience severe, life-threatening symptoms, and may recover more quickly.

Canine respiratory disease is certainly no fun, but most dogs are able to recover without any major issues. Still, if your pet is showing disease signs, first take precautions to keep them and other pets separated and safe. Then, make an appointment as soon as possible with our Otay Pet Vets team to prevent your beloved dog from getting worse.