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  • Dr Sandy Jameson

Kennel Cough? Bordetella??Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex?!?

So many names, let’s break them down and discover where they come from…

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) is a mouthful, but the most descriptive name because kennel cough (the older and more commonly used name) involves multiple pathogens including bacteria and viruses. Some organisms that can cause CIRDC are canine parainfluenza, Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine pneumovirus and Mycoplasma.


Transmission of CIRDC typically occurs in areas of higher population density, for example dog kennels (hence the name kennel cough), dog parks, grooming facilities or doggie daycares. Transmission occurs in an oronasal fashion meaning that infected respiratory secretions in the air can be breathed in or swallowed, or infected particles in the environment can be breathed in by your dog. The time from exposure to the infection to the start of clinical signs is usually 2-3 days, but can be up to 10. Clinical signs typically include coughing (sometimes with retching or gagging at the end of a coughing session), sneezing and eye/nose discharge. Less commonly dogs can develop a fever, become lethargic, not want to eat and have trouble breathing. Seek immediate veterinary care if more severe clinical signs develop.


Treatment doesn’t typically require hospitalization except in more severe cases when pneumonia can develop. Antibiotics aren’t usually necessary, but anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants can be prescribed to help control the cough, especially if it is interfering with your dog’s ability to sleep. Importantly, dogs showing clinical signs should be kept isolated until their cough resolves to prevent transmission to other dogs.

We do not have vaccines for all of the causative agents of CIRDC so vaccination does not always prevent disease, but it reduced the risk of disease and if contracted the severity of disease. Vaccines importantly cover Bordetella and parainfluenza. Puppies can receive their first ‘kennel cough’ vaccine at 12 weeks of age and then a booster at 16 weeks of age. Going forward, the vaccine is boostered annually. Not all dogs need to receive the kennel cough vaccine. If a dog is not around other dogs and does not visit places of high density, then they probably don’t need to be vaccinated for kennel cough. In some areas of the United States, dogs should also receive an influenza (H3N2) vaccine.


In the last two years, we seem to be seeing more cases of CIRDC with some local outbreaks. Perhaps this is because people (and their dogs) are travelling and socializing more? Certainly, it has been over-amplified by the press and social media. It is an important disease to track, but waxing and waning is normal in an endemic disease.

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