Why you should stop panicking about this “mystery dog illness.”

I am writing as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant for the past 16 years and a Boarding Facility owner for the past 5 years. I have also worked in a conventional veterinary office as well as a holistic clinic and work closely with multiple holistic veterinarians. What are the actual facts and data? Is the media blowing this all out of proportion? I will give my personal expertise at the end. Let’s dive in.


What do we know?

(Taken mostly from Worms and Germs Blog by Veterinarian Scott Reese.) Links posted at the end and some really good information and reads so check them out! I have just broken down the most relevant and important information for you.

  • There have been some cases of dogs developing pneumonia and some with longer than normal duration of canine respiratory disease complex. (CIRDC).
  • Some cases have not responded to antibiotics.
  • Do we regularly see cases of CIRDC every year? Yes we do.
  • Can regular cases of respiratory illness lead to pneumonia or even death? Yes it can.
  • New Hampshire Veterinary diagnostic lab has been investigating this mysterious disease for almost 1 year.
  • They have stated they have not seen a large increase in deaths from the illness.
  • There is always limited information about true numbers.
  • The disease description is vague and matches the same symptoms as a handful of other respiratory type illnesses.
  • There are talks about finding a bug or “new” organism. A bug in DNA or “new” organism can be found in healthy individuals as well as sick, so that is not a clear picture and doesn’t mean it is necessarily relevant to disease.

What could this mean?

  • There is no clear evidence of a new pathogen or an existing pathogen that’s changed.
  • It could mean there is an increase in cases across the US of the usual culprits of respiratory illness for a currently unknown reason. Speculation is that our lifestyles have changed over the past few years and now dogs are more isolated and don’t have the immunity they did before. 
  • The current assumption is that there is an increase but it is caused by the usual viral and bacterial causes.
Kennel cough details

The take away (with some added opinion and expertise)

  • Treat this how canine respiratory illness has always been treated. (see links at the end) Don’t panic, don’t change your dogs life too much unless necessary.
  • If you have an immune compromised dog, a very young puppy, elderly or similar – you may  want to take some extra precautions. This should apply for colder months every year as there is always an increase in respiratory illnesses during this time.
  • Boost your dogs immune system, don’t break it down. Feed quality natural diets. Whole food supplements. We recommend raw or Carna4 kibble or similar. They also make a great supplement. There is an amazing store in Littleton, Hero’s Pets, that can help you with feeding and  immune boosting supplements – literally anything you need for dog health is available there.
  • Expose your dog to lots of different environments slowly so they can build natural immunity. – Dog parks and unregulated highly populated dog areas are always risky. Attending a single daycare facility regularly will give your dog good exposure but also prime their immune  system for pathogens it may come across. Often its the new dog that catches something when it’s going around.
  • Avoid sick dogs. Keep your dog home if it shows signs of sickness.
  • Monitor your dog if they are sick. If you get more serious signs such as weakness (not  getting up to eat), loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, breathing faster when not exercising,  rapid worsening of illness, coughing that leads to vomiting (some hacking up phlegm is  normal), or coughing that makes it hard for the dog to breathe – that’s when you should see  your vet.
  • Many respiratory cases resolve on their own without treatment and are often viral which can’t be treated with antibiotics. It’s the secondary infections that require treatment and those would be caught by the symptoms just listed above. Giving antibiotics as a preventative only help slightly due to some of their anti inflammatory properties. They should not be used as a preventive as they destroy the good bacteria and if it is viral they will not work. It has been admitted many vets give it just to make pet owners feel better.

Owning a facility that can house 70 dogs has gave me some insight into respiratory illness. We have seen it come around once a year for 2-3 weeks at a time. Random dogs catch it but many of our regulars do not. My personal dogs had it one year and it lasted about 5 days with no intervention, and one of them is a French bulldog. This year it seemed to affect much less dogs and also milder than before, although it has lingered a little bit longer with cases reporting to us much further apart so we do see a change but not necessarily a concerning one. In about a months span we only heard of around 5 dogs total getting it. Much to our surprise to hear about this mystery illness. The media quickly spread the fear and while it’s always good to remain diligent, the data is showing us there isn’t a reason to panic.


When COVID hit and everyone isolated, dogs suffered on a social level to the extreme, so much so they are called COVID dogs. Dogs go through developmental stages that isolation can lead to permanent results. Training can help but it can’t fix it 100%. Sometimes we have to  weigh risk vs. benefit and see what makes the most sense for our particular situation. I personally am not willing to sacrifice my dog’s social development due to a fear of getting sick. Much like children, it’s not common to remove your child from school or switch to home schooling every time there’s a flu, or even cold going around. This is the time of year where people and dogs can get sick more easily, it always is this way. It makes you wonder if we learned anything during the shut downs – the media loves to instill fear. Isolation leads to mental and emotional issues, and stress and isolation themselves can weaken our body’s ability to fight infection.


Boarding/Daycare facilities in particular are held to a standard that we must abide by legally and so are actually one of the safer places to take your dog. We have to clean and disinfect every dog’s space after they leave. We have to sanitize our yards. We have to sanitize our bowls. (At Zen we don’t let dog’s share water bowls ever). We have high quality air purifiers throughout our facility, and we monitor the dogs. If we suspect a dog could have something,  we get them sent home. It’s the best anyone can do in the situation of an airborne illness. We highly prefer owners don’t go to dog parks and don’t jump around to different facilities because that does increase the risk. When your dog adjusts to one place, it’s better for everyone. Ultimately you need to do what feels best but make decisions logically rather than emotionally.  I hope this helped put some minds at ease and everyone stays healthy.