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"kennel cough"

OR cirdc:

Canine infectious

respiratory disease complex

I will start by saying we believe Cavalier Spaniel puppies are more prone to coughs than other breeds.  We have worked with two other toy breeds over the years and neither of them had coughing issues.  Only the Cavaliers were more sensitive to coughs.  Stress can certainly do that to a little one.  Coughs happen from time to time at our homes, particularly after taking several of our Cavaliers to a health clinic in a different state than where we reside.  Of course, if a puppy in our possession has a bit of a cough, that baby stays with us until s/he is well.  

The younger age of puppies means their immune systems have not yet matured.  Of course, this makes them more susceptible to infection.  Joining a new family, leaving the only home they've ever known, is stressful for the babies.  If there is travel involved, this adds to the stress.  To add to the mix, the puppy's maternal antibodies are most likely wearing off at this time!  These issues combined make puppies significantly more susceptible to infections. 


A puppy may come down with a cough at their new home when they very well would have remained cough free if they had stayed at their first home, with the breeder.  Are you going to blame the breeder for providing you with a puppy that is healthy per all perceived human knowledge and standards, who then develops a cough after going through the stresses of joining a new family - yours?   If you want to hold the breeder responsible for a cough when your baby had to deal with all the stresses of joining your family, please go elsewhere.  (Even fun times are stressful for little ones.  Think of a child at Disneyland!) 

Because "Kennel Cough" is primarily endemic - it's everywhere - and because the Bordetella vaccine does not guarantee a young puppy will be completely protected from Bordetella, we do not warranty puppy coughs.  Our vet will verify, to the best of human perception, that the puppy is cough free and healthy before we deliver your baby.  Be certain to get your baby to your vet in the 72 -hour time frame in case something was missed by us or our vet!


The incubation period for "kennel cough" (a catch-all term) and CIRDC can be as short as two days.  (See below.)  The 3 to 10-day incubation refers to Bordetella, specifically, which is just one of many, many ever-mutating pathogens that can cause a baby to cough.  We do give the oral Bordetella vaccine to all puppies, although we don't recommend it - nor does the AVMA - for dogs that are basically "homebodies."

Additionally, because we do give the Bordetella and Adenovirus vaccinations, your baby might develop symptoms as a result of being vaccinated.  It happens.

A couple more recommendations:

Avoid the use of pesticides (heartworm treatments, flea and tick poisons, some worming treatments) while your puppy's immune system is concentrating on maturing and/or dealing with stress.  Use natural parasite control, even for heartworm prevention.  It takes months for heartworm infections to develop, and you'll test your puppy every 6 months to make sure s/he is heartworm free.  Besides, heartworm treatments often cause nausea, which can result in reflux or even vomiting, increasing the chance of aspirating the stomach contents, which can result in aspiration pneumonia!  (Steroids/prednisone do the same thing!)  Play it safe with your precious Cavalier puppy!

If your pet comes down with a cough, we recommend that you do not put your pet on steroids/prednisone.  Steroids will often delay the recovery per our experience.  If anti-inflammatories are desired, you can use baby aspirin as an NSAID.  Steroids are primarily for allergies.  (If a pet has "stomach breathing" or labored breathing, carefully follow veterinary advice - and we suggest that you get a second opinion from a vet that is NOT associated with your original vet.)

Please do not allow your vet to charge you for nebulizer treatments in their office, with the exception of the first treatment.  Request prescription medications for home use and purchase your own nebulizer.

Skipping even one treatment in a vet's clinic in favor of home treatment will more than pay for a nebulizer.  Also, between medicated nebulizer treatments (Generally, they can have up to 4 medicated treatments per 24 hours.), you can use regular saline solution to relieve irritation and loosen secretions.   Besides, nebulizers are good to have on hand, for you and your family, to help with upper respiratory irritations and congestion.  Our firstborn son's life was saved by nebulizer treatments.  True story!  Home nebulizer treatments can be the difference between life and death.  Plus, they're not expensive!

Don't get overly concerned if your pup's cough lasts a couple of months or longer.  This not unusual.   Your pup has an immune system that is still developing, so you have to support that baby while their immune system has a chance to mature. As long as your pup's condition is not worsening, just wait it out while continuing the use of medications (NOT prednisone).  If you have not yet purchased a nebulizer, do it NOW. 


Politely refuse a vet who wants to anesthetize your little one in an attempt to find

out what's causing a cough because s/he/they think the baby has had the cough a long time.  They're likely to find the cough is caused by a virus for which they can do nothing but provide symptomatic relief!  ...and send you the bill!  Give your baby a chance to mature before you do anything "exploratory," which is what a bronchoscopy is - exploratory.  Additionally, it can be quite dangerous to put a small, young puppy on anesthesia! 

(See how to test for URIs:


We recommend you insist on having antibiotics, bronchodilators, etc. for use in your nebulizer at home.  From what we've seen this is the most expeditious method of helping your puppy get over a chronic cough.

Try to keep in mind that a veterinary practice is a business, with a goal of making money, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  They have bills to pay, too!  ...and college loans to pay off!

Lastly, I want to express how personal it is to choose a vet clinic for a breeder.  (They call them a veterinary practice for a good reason!)  It's like choosing a church!  (One Bible and so many opinions.)  Most breeders have seen many vet opinions that contradict each other or seem outlandish!  There can be as many opinions as there are veterinarians.  Thus, breeders are prone to take "your" vet's opinion with the proverbial grain of salt to make it palatable - and Visa Versa.  You should TRUST your breeder!  That baby was theirs, first!  (This is assuming your baby came from someone who breeds correctly.)

Regarding a flu virus, here is what the AKC says about the incubation period:


1.  The incubation period of canine influenza is approximately 2-to-4 days from initial exposure to the dog flu virus


Also, VCA agrees with AKC:


2.  It takes about 2 to 4 days (incubation period) for clinical signs to develop after contact with the virus


Web Vets agrees, too:


3.  The incubation period (the time before a dog shows symptoms of the disease) is 2-4 days from when they are exposed.


And more:


4.  For the canine influenza virus, the incubation period is 2-4 days.


Regarding Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), which includes "kennel cough":  (Bear in mind that travel stress, or changing families, or young age combined with an immature immune system, can all speed up the incubation.)

5.  The incubation period for most CIRDC pathogens is typically 2-3 days

Per University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine  (Note:  We cover the entire 3 days with our health warranty.)

Overview of Canine Infectious Respiratory

Disease Complex (CIRDC) 


It is common to use the term “kennel cough”, “infectious tracheobronchitis” and variations on “canine infectious respiratory disease complex” interchangeably. However, this is an overly simplistic view of a complicated syndrome. The disease is not limited to the trachea, nor does it always manifest as coughing. Clinical signs of canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) may include sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge, and sometimes lower respiratory and/or systemic disease.

Multiple bacterial and viral pathogens, acting both sequentially and synergistically, are associated with CIRDC.

Viral pathogens associated with CIRDC in dogs include:

  • Parainfluenza

  • Adenovirus-2

  • Respiratory coronavirus (this is distinct from canine enteric coronavirus)

  • Herpesvirus-1

  • Pneumovirus 

Canine distemper and canine influenza (H3N8 and H3N2) may also be associated with upper respiratory signs, but can also cause more severe systemic disease in a proportion of infected dogs. 

Bacterial pathogens implicated in CIRDC include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica

  • Mycoplasma spp.

  • Streptococcus zooepidemicus (may cause severe systemic disease)

In addition, it is likely that secondary bacterial invaders of many species play a significant role in causing more severe disease in some dogs. We are still unraveling the complicated etiology of CIRDC, as evidenced by the fact that several of the pathogens listed above have only been recognized in recent years.

New findings regarding known CIRDC pathogens, as well as current research on emerging pathogens, are adding to the already complex pathogenesis of CIRDC. High-density environments, such as shelters — where exposure, susceptibility, and transmission of infectious diseases are amplified — can contribute to outbreaks of known CIRDC pathogens, as well as the emergence of novel pathogens. Continuing to define the role of these emerging pathogens is critical to CIRDC management.

Environmental factors and host immune response play an equally important role in facilitating the development of CIRDC. There is a reason it has been called “kennel cough” – several of the pathogens listed above are insufficient in themselves to cause disease without the additional stress, high contact rates, and crowding often associated with kenneling. CIRDC’s multifactorial etiology requires a multifaceted approach for optimal management in the shelter setting.

Who is susceptible to CIRDC?


Although labeled canine infectious respiratory disease complex, some of the pathogens involved may also be transmitted to other species. Bordetella bronchiseptica may occasionally infect people, especially those with respiratory disease or immune compromise, and can also infect cats. Influenza, (H3N2) too, has been reported to infect cats. To prevent cross-species transmission, as well as to reduce stress for all concerned, it is ideal to always house animals separately by species.

Disease Course


The incubation period for most CIRDC pathogens is typically 2-3 days (Note:  We cover the entire 3 days with our health warranty.) but can range from 2 days (influenza H3N8 and H3N2) to up to 6 weeks (distemper). All CIRDC pathogens have a preclinical shedding period, complicating disease management. Clinical signs and shedding typically last for 5-10 days; however, some pathogens can shed for prolonged periods (Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma, and distemper). Clinical signs are typically mild, self-limiting, and resolve with supportive care. Severe infection can sometimes be seen, more commonly in younger and immunocompromised animals.

Client Information Handout: Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC),

AKA Kennel Cough


Congratulations on your new dog! The shelter staff has worked very hard to ensure the health of your dog, but CIRDC is a very common disease in dogs adopted from shelters. Here is some information about this condition and how you can help your newly adopted dog to recover from this condition and lead a happy, healthy life!

  1. CIRDC is common, contagious, and very rarely fatal. The disease is caused by bacteria and/or viruses that spread among dogs and cats.

  2. CIRDC is spread by air and hands, therefore it is as common in an animal shelter as the common cold is in a daycare center.

  3. CIRDC could spread to your other dogs. Vaccinated, healthy dogs in a home usually develop mild, if any, signs of CIRDC after exposure to a new dog; however, in some cases, serious illness may be transmitted. Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns.

  4. RARELY, an immunocompromised person (e.g. an HIV patient or someone undergoing chemotherapy) can be infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica, one of the bacteria involved in CIRDC. If someone in the family is severely immunocompromised, please discuss CIRDC with your physician.

  5. CIRDC is manageable in a home. The BEST thing to do for a dog with CIRDC is to provide them with a warm, stress-free home. In this environment, most dogs will recover within a few weeks.

  6. There are vaccines that can reduce the severity of CIRDC, but giving these vaccines to an animal who is already infected will not help the animal recover any quicker.

  7. Sometimes antibiotics are used in treating CIRDC and may help your dog deal with the disease. These medications can be obtained from your veterinarian.

  8. Severe, untreated cases of CIRDC can develop into pneumonia, so it is important to discuss CIRDC with your veterinarian.

When should you seek treatment for your dog?

  1. We recommend that all newly adopted dogs be seen by a veterinarian within a few days of adoption, for a routine health check.

  2. If your dog(s) develop a hacking cough, discharge from eyes and nose, lethargy or loss of appetite, you should make an appointment with a veterinarian.

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