Are upper respiratory infections contagious in dogs? The Ultimate Guide

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs

The signs of upper respiratory infections in dogs look a lot like those of a human cold. For instance, dogs with this illness may experience:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Dogs with an upper respiratory infection may also lose their appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Additionally, you might notice behavioral changes in your dog, such as sleeping more than usual or a lack of energy. Your typically energetic dog might be reluctant to go for walks or play their favorite games.

    If your dog has an upper respiratory infection, you should consult with your veterinarian. They can help identify the cause of the infection and determine the appropriate treatment.

    While some upper respiratory infections resolve on their own, others may require medication to treat the underlying cause. For instance, if the illness is due to a bacterial infection, the dog will need a course of antibiotics. If it’s caused by parasites, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a deworming product to clear the infestation.

    Your veterinarian may also recommend medication to help reduce pain and fever along with nasal drops or spray to alleviate a runny nose or congestion. In addition, they can offer advice on how to care for your dog at home. In severe cases, intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and hospitalization might be necessary to stabilize the dog.

    Never give your dog any kind of mediation without consulting with your veterinarian first. Human medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can harm your pooch.

    Does My Dog Have Respiratory Infection?

    A respiratory infection is a viral, parasitic, or bacterial infection of the respiratory system and upper airways in your dog.

    Symptoms of a respiratory infection in your dog include:

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    Respiratory infections are most commonly caused by bacterial or viral organisms, many of which are contagious, but the vast majority of which are species-specific. However, there are some exceptions.

    There is some evidence that Bordetella, the kennel cough bacteria, can be transferred between people and dogs. As well, Staphylococcus bacteria may infect many different species of animals, causing illness.

    Viruses are almost always species-specific in nature and do not generally transfer between species, however, any virus can mutate and become zoonotic, that is transfer to another species. Although this is rare, exceptions occur. The recent H1N1 virus transferred from swine to people, and in a few instances transferred from people to cats, ferrets, and a dog.

    Viruses can transfer through body secretions such as saliva or feces or through parasitic vectors, such as tick bites or mosquitos. It is much more likely that your dog will catch a virus such as canine influenza virus or canine parainfluenza virus, from another dog. The risk of acquiring a virus from you or another person is negligible. Puppies, elderly dogs and immune compromised dogs have a greater chance of developing respiratory infections.

    Diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection in your dog is performed by your veterinarian who will perform a complete physical exam and take a medical history of your dog. Blood and urine tests, as well as swabs of excretions from your dogs upper airways, can be used to identify the presence of bacteria or parasites, or the likelihood of a virus that is causing your dogs respiratory symptoms. Other medical conditions and pulmonary disease may need to be ruled out before determining if a respiratory infection is the cause of your dogs symptoms.

    Read more at our guides to kennel cough and canine influenza.

    Should your pet begin to cough, sneeze or begin to produce discharge from their eyes or nose, it is important to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to make a proper diagnosis. Once it has been confirmed, our veterinary team will recommend upper respiratory infection treatment options for your pet to help manage both the infection and any uncomfortable symptoms. Pets demonstrating obvious signs and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection should avoid visiting dog parks, roaming the neighborhood or coming into contact with other pets until effectively cleared by their veterinarian.

    We want to help you stay well informed about preventive pet health care. Explore our pet health resources and advice below to learn more.

    At Hope Springs, we carefully and confidently work to prevent and treat upper respiratory infections in cats and dogs. Upper respiratory infections are highly contagious and spread easily, making prevention the first and most important step in avoiding the risks of further complications associated with infection. Depending upon the condition or cause of infection, our experienced veterinary team may recommend vaccinations to prevent exposure and, in cases when vaccinations are not available, help educate you and your family on precautionary measures that may help reduce your pets risk of infection.

    We take special precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection once your pet arrives at our offices for an examination. Its our commitment to protect both the infected patient, as well as other patients being seen or staying in our facility. We know that reducing exposure, and effectively treating pets in a timely and safe manner will lower the risk of infection and decrease the risk of further complications. Our Locations

    Feline upper respiratory infection and upper respiratory infection in dogs can spread through discharge of the nose and eyes, as well as direct contact with an infected pet, or indirect contact by way of shared objects like dog bowls, bedding, toys, shoes and environment that have been contaminated by an infected pet. Your pet may become infected at the park, roaming your neighborhood or while visiting any location where other pets have been, including the pet store, hospital or doctors office or rest stop while traveling.

    Vets Seeing More Dogs with Upper Respiratory Infections

    Dogs that are social or visit pet businesses, like doggie day cares, groomers, boarding facilities, and dog parks, are at risk for infectious diseases, including those that cause coughing.

    Multiple bacterial and viral pathogens can result in clinical signs of canine infectious respiratory disease complex. Outbreaks associated with canine cough are very common and reported worldwide.

    Pathogens associated with disease are transmitted via the aerosol route through direct or indirect contact with fomites. Most have short incubation periods ranging from a few days up to 2 weeks.

    Bordetella bronchiseptica is a gram-negative coccobacilli that can cause respiratory disease in many species, including dogs, cats, pigs, rabbits, and people.

    Bordetella is considered highly contagious. The incubation period ranges from 2 to 10 days. Most cases are mild and involve the upper-respiratory tract. The organism can be shed for at least 1 month, and in some cases, for several months.

    Strep zoo has been associated with acute, severe bronchopneumonia in dogs. Outbreaks of severe hemorrhagic pneumonia from it has been described in group-housed dogs.

    Dogs initially have mild clinical signs, including a cough and nasal discharge; however, their clinical signs can rapidly progress within 24 to 48 hours of onset, resulting in development of severe acute fibrinosuppurative, necrotizing, and hemorrhagic bronchopneumonia.

    Mycoplasmas can be difficult to identify and the pathogenesis of disease is unclear. Most cases of disease are mild in severity.

    Canine Adenovirus 2, is a nonenveloped double-stranded DNA virus of the family Adenoviridae. The virus infects the non-ciliated bronchiolar epithelial cells, the epithelial cells of the nasal mucosa, pharynx, and tonsillar crypts and the mucous cells in the trachea and bronchi.

    Clinical signs are most often mild and consist of sneezing, nasal discharge, and a dry cough.

    The incubation period is 3-6 days and viral shedding typically wanes 1 to 2 weeks after infection. The virus can survive in the environment for weeks to months.

    Canine distemper virus is in the genus Morbillivirus and family Paramyxoviridae. It is an enveloped RNA virus that can cause clinical signs involving the respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal systems.

    Viral particles initially infect monocytes within the lymphoid and tonsillar tissues of the upper-respiratory tract and then disseminate throughout the body through the lymphatics.

    CDV also infects lymphocytes and causes widespread lymphocyte destruction which results in lymphopenia. The virus is shed through secretions and shedding can continue for up to 4 months.

    Fortunately, because of the viral envelope, environmental survival is only several hours, and routine disinfectants will inactivate the virus.

    Canine distemper can be fatal. Dogs with the disease can have a wide variety of clinical signs including diarrhea and vomiting, ocular discharge, and various neurologic signs.

    Canine influenza viruses are enveloped RNA viruses. Canine influenza belongs to the family Orthomyxoviridae and is further subtyped based on its hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) genes.

    H3N8: The first documented cases of canine influenza H3N8 were found in Florida racing greyhounds in 2004. The virus then spread throughout the country, mostly being reported in kennels and shelters, and sporadically within the pet population.

    H3N2: In 2015, an outbreak H3N2 canine influenza was identified for the first time in the US. This subtype was similar to a strain previously reported in South East Asia and was suspected to be the result of a mutated avian influenza virus. Since 2015, this strain of CIV has spread throughout the United States and reintroductions from Asia have resulted in the appearance of additional outbreaks.

    Canine influenza can cause a wide range of severity, from mild to severe. Clinical signs associated include lethargy, cough, nasal and ocular discharge, and occasionally more severe clinical signs associated with pneumonia and death.

    Parainfluenza is highly contagious and is found worldwide. Before introduction of vaccines, this virus could be isolated from up to 50% of kenneled dogs with respiratory disease.

    Parainfluenza, is also spread via respiratory droplets, and infection occurs within the respiratory epithelial cells. The incubation period is between 3-6 days.

    Dogs can exhibit no clinical signs or mild clinical signs of a dry, harsh cough for several days with or without pyrexia.

    Canine Respiratory Coronavirus is a group 2 coronavirus in the family Coronaviridae and is an enveloped RNA virus.

    This virus was first described in a group of shelter dogs with respiratory disease in 2003 in the UK and has now been identified in dogs worldwide.

    Infection with canine coronavirus is usually associated with mild clinical signs, including nasal discharge, cough, and sneezing.

    Although respiratory tissue appears to be the primary site of viral replication, the virus has also been detected in the stool or intestines of dogs that presented with primary respiratory disease in the absence of GI signs. Viral shedding can occur up to 10 days after infection.

    Clinical diagnosis is usually made with just a history of exposure to other dogs, typical clinical signs, and a physical examination. Complete blood count may show evidence of inflammation, including mild to moderate neutrophilia, presence of band neutrophils, orlymphopenia.

    PCR testing has become a popular test for respiratory disease. Respiratory panels have been developed that detect the nucleic acid from pathogens, including CPIV, CAV-2, CDV, CRCoV, CHV, CIV, B bronchiseptica, and Mycoplasma sp.

    Swabs of the nasal cavity, oropharyngeal cavity, or specimens collected from the lower-respiratory tract can be submitted for testing but false negative are possible with low or intermittent shedding or inappropriate sample handling. PCR testing is best performed on samples that are less than 3 days old. Vaccination within the previous few weeks with live-attenuated vaccines can lead to false positive results.

    Serologic assays for measurement of antibodies are also available; however, their clinical use is limited because antibodies occurring in response to vaccination cannot be distinguished those produced from disease.

    Treatment of dogs with uncomplicated respiratory disease usually involves supportive care and may include hydration and nutritional support, oxygen therapy, nebulization, and coupage.

    Treatment of bacterial pathogens, B bronchiseptica, or opportunistic secondary pathogens should be guided by culture and susceptibility testing, because of antimicrobial resistance issues. Doxycycline is the antibiotic of choice for suspected B bronchiseptica or M cynos infection.

    Vaccination protocols for dogs that are social or visit pet businesses, like doggie day cares, groomers, boarding facilities, and dog parks should include vaccines that protect against CPIV, CAV-2, CDV, CIV H3N8 & H3N2, and B. bronchiseptica.

    Reference: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders/Elsevier; 2012