Spotting the Most Common and Costly Diseases

Spotting the Most Common and Costly Diseases

By Outstanding Pet Care University

You know that a quality pet care facility, that provides great pet care, offers one of the best and safest choices for pets and pet parents while they’re away from home. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuft’s University, one of the top educational facilities in the world, agrees. In their February 2014 “Your Dog” newsletter, veterinarians state, “Responsible kennels that insist on proof of vaccination against the illness, before taking care of a dog, are among the least likely places your pet will end up with the infection.”

The problem is that a good portion of the pet owning public doesn’t understand this. Numerous studies have shown that the last thing that most pet parents want to do is take their pet to a ‘kennel.’ Although this quote is from a new and very strong competitor, it does speak to pet parents’ apprehension about taking their furry best friend to a ‘kennel.’ According to, a website that promotes in-home pet sitting, “Ninety percent of dog owners won’t use kennels. Your dog will get fed there, but you probably won’t feel great about it. It’s like leaving a kid at an orphanage.”

Caring pet parents have many fears, and at the top of this scary list is that their pet will get sick. We all know that pets can, and often do, get sick anywhere – at the dog park, the veterinary clinic, and even with a pet sitter in their own home. The conclusion that many pet parents erroneously draw is that because pet care facilities have a high number of pets boarding, the probability of infection increases.

Besides promoting strict vaccination policies, having a well-trained staff is another proven strategy for quality pet care facilities to help allay the fears of pet parents. By arming your team with the latest information on common diseases, you help them provide exceptional care – even with these common diseases that any pet can be exposed to.

Who Should Pay Attention?
To provide the highest level of care, everyone in your facility needs to be familiar with the signs of some of the most common diseases. For example, the separate diseases “Canine Cough,” “Infectious Tracheobronchitis” (ITB), or “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex” (CIRDC) are all commonly referred to as “Kennel Cough.” The use of inaccurate labels like “Kennel Cough” continues to attack the reputations of our businesses. “Canine Cough” is more accurate because it describes the syndrome – coughing dogs – but does not imply that the disease is caused by a pet care facility.

This ongoing educational battle we face is necessary and similar to the issues faced by child day care facilities. That industry was successful in explaining that children got sick everywhere, and even went so far as to intimate that a child at day care would build up immunities to common childhood diseases.

The first step to take as an industry is continually educating our staff and our client pet parents that dogs can become infected anywhere – at the park, taking a walk through the neighborhood, or even in their own backyards.

Canine Cough, the Canine Influenza Virus (CIV), and Canine Parainfluenza are health subjects that every pet care facility employee, owner, and manager should know about. Even the best pet care facilities can have outbreaks. The goal should always be to minimize the canine exposure rate as well as the other potential negative impacts on your business. You can do everything right and still be faced with sick dogs, lost revenue and a hit to your reputation.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs and How They’re Spread
Mild respiratory infections in pets, including Canine Cough and CIV, can show up as a dry, hacking cough often followed by a retching or gagging sound. You may also notice the infected dog may have a runny nose and sneezing. As the disease progresses, without treatment, dogs may run a high fever over 103º F and develop problems breathing. This is one of the reasons why early detection on the part of pet care staff is so important.

Typically, canine respiratory infections are spread from dog to dog in secretions from the eyes, nose, or mouth and by direct contact from infected dog to healthy dog. Sneezing or coughing can release tiny, aerosolized droplets carrying the virus for up to 20 feet in any direction that can be picked up by healthy dogs. The viruses can also be carried on the hands, clothing, shoes and equipment of pet care staff and spread from dog to dog, and area to area.

The incubation period for Canine Cough – that period of time where a pet may not show symptoms - can be anywhere from 3 to 10 days, so your clients may not be aware their dog is sick before bringing it in to your facility for boarding. Pet Care staff need to be aware of this possibility when handling new boarding clients and watch for the signs of disease.

Prevention and Disease Control Measures to Minimize Negative Impact on Your Business
Some of the biggest preventative factors in maintaining the general wellbeing of the pets in your care include avoiding overcrowding, keeping a clean environment, and providing TLC to all the pets in your facility. Specific measures to prevent canine infectious respiratory disease include promoting vaccination protocols, emphasizing sanitation and cleanliness, and providing good ventilation in your buildings.

Although vaccinations are not a 100% preventative against disease, requiring all pets be vaccinated for both Bordatella and CIV has proven to reduce the chances of the spread and severity of the virus.

The American Animal Hospital Association classifies the Bordetella vaccine as “non-core,” meaning it is only recommended for dogs at risk of infection. Those include all dogs being boarded at a kennel, pet care facility or veterinary clinic. Most pet care facilities require this vaccine to minimize the risks of an outbreak.

Canine influenza vaccines are also available and considered “non-core”. Since this virus is fairly new and most dogs do not have an immunity to it, many quality pet care facilities are seriously considering requiring the influenza vaccine. The CIV vaccine is not a total preventative, however, it helps to minimize the spread of the virus as well as the severity of the infection.

Unfortunately, no vaccines are going to prove 100 per cent effective against infection of any disease. Bordetella and influenza vaccines are less effective than some others (such as canine parvovirus), so even well-vaccinated dogs will occasionally be infected. As a pet care facility owner or manager, you want to do everything you can to protect the dogs in your care. Requiring vaccinations is just one way to increase the probability of a healthy pet. Many veterinarians recommend vaccinations be given two weeks in advance to ensure immunity.

Facility Disinfection
Maintaining a clean and safe environment is another way to decrease the probability of an outbreak. The following are just a few tips to insure thorough and proper sanitation.

Tips for Sanitation:

  • Disinfectants are deactivated by debris, so any surface should be thoroughly cleaned first.
  • The Bordetella virus can live in water. Thoroughly dry surfaces after cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Remove dogs from the area if power sprayers are used to clean. Sprayers can actually aerosolize infectious organisms and increase the spread of infection.
  • Disinfect all enclosures, walls, floors, doors, etc.
  • Disinfect bowls and toys between dogs.
  • Wash bedding, towels and uniforms in a washing machine with hot water, detergent, and bleach. Dry on a high heat cycle in the dryer.
  • Spray application of disinfectants is preferred to a mop and bucket. The mop water can easily become contaminated and spread infection to other areas of the facility.

Because canine cough organisms are airborne, ventilation in the facility is very important to prevent the spread of infection. This includes the exchange of fresh air with inside air whenever possible.

Employee Prevention
Employee hands, shoes and clothing can transmit infectious organisms. A few tips for employee prevention of the spread of viruses in your facility include:

  • If you have an outbreak, take care of all the healthy pets before taking care of any ill ones.
  • Wear gloves when handling sick dogs and wash your hands after removing the gloves.
  • You should always wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling each healthy or sick pet.
  • Protective scrubs, gowns, or booties should be worn over clothing and then discarded after working with potentially sick pets.
  • Setting up a footbath with properly diluted bleach or disinfectant at the entrance to any isolation areas will help keep employees from bringing the virus into other parts of the facility on their shoes.

If you have pet dogs at home, consider changing your clothes and shoes at the end of your shift to avoid transmitting diseases home.

Dogs don’t always show symptoms while shedding viruses for many diseases. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to know if an employee has encountered a potentially sick dog. Research shows that humans can be a contaminator of different viruses including CIV. In other words, staff members can carry the virus from dog to dog on clothing, shoes, hands and even their hair.

Encourage frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Install hand sanitizer stations throughout your facility and insist staff use them between handing dogs to prevent the spread of any disease. And if you have to isolate dogs that you believe, or know, are sick, limit the number of employees that will have access to these dogs.

Quality pet care facilities have an isolation area to lodge any animals with suspected cases of respiratory infection. Ideally, this area should have a separate ventilation system.

When to Take the Pet to the Vet
Quality pet care facilities DO NOT hesitate to call the pet’s veterinarian or the facility veterinarian as soon as a pet shows any possible sign of illness. It’s best to be proactive and not wait until the situation gets worse. Early treatment is good for everyone. Most owners appreciate the facility taking care of this in advance of the pet’s departure home so they are not faced with a sick dog when they return.

If an outbreak occurs in your facility, it may be necessary to set concrete protocols for the upcoming weeks to prevent or minimize the spread of the virus.

  • Consider no vaccination exceptions during a high-risk time.
  • If there is an outbreak in your facility or the area, you may want to consider asking if pets with future reservations have been at another facility that might have an outbreak or have been to a dog park interacting with other dogs.

Facility Tours

  • If you allow dogs to accompany owners along on a facility tour, you may consider restricting them during an outbreak. You don’t know if the dog has been vaccinated and therefore is a possible carrier or vulnerable.
  • Consider discouraging potential clients from touring the facility if the pet owners have visited, or intend to visit, another pet care facility that same day.

How Viruses or Disease Affect Your Business
Not following these disease prevention protocols or taking a proactive position will have many negative effects on your business. Pet parents today are more likely to vent on social media, to friends and to family. Negative reviews will not only damage your brand, you are also likely to incur a significant loss of future clients and revenue.

If you are a responsible facility providing great customer service, you may also be absorbing the veterinarian expense for sick clients. An increase in illnesses will translate to a decrease to your bottom line.

Staff members in the pet care industry want to work with healthy pets in a safe and clean environment. A pattern of sick pets can affect employee morale and productivity.

On the positive side, having a healthy facility creates raving human fans, healthy, happy pets, positive reviews, and client and veterinary referrals.

Outstanding Pet Care University is dedicated to protecting and growing the Pet Care Industry through World-Class Pet Care Training and Education. OPCU’s curriculum:

  • Delivers necessary pet care training in the convenience of your facility
  • Saves training, time and energy of owners and managers
  • Provides convenient, technically-advanced format for immediate access
  • Offers immediate on-line testing to give you assurance that the material was understood
  • Reduces potential injuries to your staff and guests
  • Can increase health and happiness of the pets in your care
  • Protects you, your staff, and your bottom line


1) If a dog is vaccinated for Bordatella they are immune against catching which of the following:

a) Canine Influenza
B) Canine Cough
c) Kennel Cough
d) None of the above – (nothing is 100% against all viral strains)

2) Upper Respiratory Diseases are spread through:

a) Secretions from the eyes, nose & mouth
B) Aerosolized tiny water droplets sneezed or coughed from an infected dog
C) Direct Contact
D) All of the Above

3) Viral shedding from an influenza occurs:

a) Up to 5 days before dog showing any symptoms
B) Up to 3 days before dog showing any symptoms
C) When dog is showing symptoms.
D) None of the Above

4) Which are symptoms of mild cases of upper respiratory (Canine Cough or CIV)?

a) Difficulty breathing
b) Dry hacking cough, followed by retching or gagging, may be accompanied by runny nose and sneezing
c) Puss like discharge
d) High Fever (103 – 106 degrees Fahrenheit)

5) Which of the following are the biggest preventative factors in maintaining pet wellness and avoiding Canine Cough & CIV outbreaks?

a) Ventilation
b) Requiring current vaccinations
c) Sanitation
d) All of the Above

6) What is the incubation period for Canine Cough?

a) 2 – 5 days
b) 1 – 8 days
c) 3 – 10 days
d) None of the Above

7) If a dog sneezes, it can aerosol spreading virus up to…

a) 5 feet
b) 10 feet
c) 20 feet
d) None of the above

Additional fun reading
Sapolsky, Robert M. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping-Now Revised and Updated. Macmillan, 2004.


1) D
2) D
3) B
4) B
5) D
6) C
7) C

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