Los Angeles County is facing an unusual and concerning health crisis among its canine friends. A respiratory illness of unknown origin has emerged, catching the attention of public health officials and the veterinary community. To date, the L.A. County Department of Public Health has confirmed at least ten cases and one death, signaling a situation that warrants immediate action.

Identified as atypical canine infectious respiratory disease (aCIRD), this illness presents a unique challenge. It affects a wide age range of dogs, from young pups at 9 months to older dogs at 11 years. The symptoms are severe and worrying, with dogs experiencing relentless coughing, nasal discharge, and a noticeable decline in energy. These symptoms are not only distressing but also stubbornly resistant to treatments that typically resolve respiratory issues in dogs, such as those used to treat kennel cough.

Unlike common respiratory infections, aCIRD displays a concerning variability in its progression. Some dogs suffer from acute pneumonia that worsens rapidly, while others endure chronic pneumonia that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. In some cases, dogs experience long-lasting respiratory infections, extending over six weeks with no improvement despite traditional treatments. This variation in how the disease presents and progresses adds to the complexity and unpredictability of aCIRD.

In response, public health officials have issued a set of guidelines. Isolating symptomatic dogs for a minimum of 28 days post-symptom appearance is strongly recommended. For households with multiple pets, a 14-day quarantine for other dogs is advised to mitigate the risk of intra-household transmission. 

Untitled design 3

The absence of a confirmed mode of transmission has also led to a cautionary stance on communal dog areas. Dog parks, pet day-care centers, grooming salons, and boarding kennels are all advised against for the time being, as they could potentially act as nodes for the disease’s spread.

Los Angeles is not alone in confronting this health crisis. Similar cases have been reported across the United States, in states including Colorado, New Hampshire, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, Idaho, Georgia, and Florida. This nationwide occurrence suggests a common thread the scientific community is actively seeking answers for.

Colin Parrish, a professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, casts doubt on the likelihood of a viral origin. “With the sequencing methods people use to look for unknown viruses, its signature would have been clear in a few days,” Parrish explains, suggesting that the cause may lie elsewhere.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Hubbard Center for Genome Studies might have identified a bacterium linked to the symptoms. Concurrently, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is investigating a possible viral origin, considering the disease’s resistance to antibiotics.

As the holiday season kicks off, bringing with it the busiest travel period of the year, experts are cautioning dog owners to rethink traditional pet care plans. Dr. Kurt Williams, of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, advises against congregating animals to minimize the chance of transmission. 

“When you have many dogs in close contact, the likelihood of spreading infectious diseases escalates,” he explains. To safeguard their pets, owners are encouraged to collaborate with veterinarians, ensuring their dogs are up-to-date with vaccinations, especially those that protect against known respiratory diseases.