What You Need to Know About Canine Influenza
If you’re a dog owner, you may have heard of canine influenza. However, you may not be sure what it is or whether you should be concerned. Below, we’ve gathered all the information you need to stay ahead of the curve.
What is canine influenza?
Canine influenza is believed to have “jumped” species and is thought to be a mutation of a virus that came from horses. First recognized in 2004, canine influenza virus (sometimes referred to as CIV) is a nonseasonal, highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs that is spreading throughout the United States. So far, it seems that humans, cats, and birds cannot catch the virus from dogs.
Which dogs are susceptible?
All dogs can get canine influenza. In fact, because this is a novel virus—one that is new to the dog population in the United States—most dogs have no immunity to it. This means that almost 100% of dogs exposed to the virus will become infected.
Canine influenza is considered a community-acquired infection, so dogs in close proximity to other dogs are more likely to contract the disease. Thus, dogs that are boarded or spend time in day care or at grooming facilities, dog parks, dog shows, or canine sporting events are more likely to be exposed. “Dogs that travel may also have an increased risk of exposure if they travel to an area where the virus is more prevalent,” says Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. Dogs that stay at home (even those that are walked regularly) don’t carry much risk.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t board your dog or take her to day care. “The risk of exposure to canine influenza probably doesn’t outweigh the benefits in most cases,” Dr. Crawford says. In addition, good infection control practices in boarding facilities and day care centers can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. If you’re concerned, ask your veterinarian for advice or recommendations for facilities he or she trusts.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of canine influenza—persistent cough and runny nose—resemble those of kennel cough. Infected dogs may also sneeze or have a low-grade fever. A small percentage of infected dogs develop a severe form of this disease, which is typically characterized by pneumonia accompanied by a high fever, lack of energy, and loss of appetite.
How is it diagnosed?
Canine influenza resembles other respiratory diseases that affect dogs, so the only way to be sure it’s canine influenza is by testing for it. Depending on how long your dog has been sick, your veterinarian may either take blood samples or collect swabs from your dog’s nose or throat. Your veterinarian will then send the samples or swabs to a diagnostic laboratory for testing.
How is it treated?
Depending on how mild the case is, rest and good nutrition may be all that is needed. Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics and a cough suppressant; however, the cough can last for several weeks even after treatment has begun.
In more severe cases, dogs may require hospitalization so veterinary staff can monitor their condition. Antibiotics, IV fluids, and x-rays (to keep an eye on the progress and resolution of the pneumonia) are often warranted.
All infected dogs are contagious for 7 to 10 days and should be isolated from other dogs until a veterinarian says it’s safe to allow contact again.
How long will it take for a dog with canine influenza to get better?
Most dogs with canine influenza usually recover in about two to three weeks. However, more severe cases can take a lot longer to resolve (as long as four to eight weeks), and those cases that progress to pneumonia can be fatal in a small percentage of dogs. Fortunately, Dr. Crawford says that the vast majority of dogs recover without any adverse effects.
Is there any way to prevent canine influenza?
A canine influenza vaccine has recently come onto the market. The vaccine can be given to healthy dogs older than six weeks of age and is administered in two injections two to four weeks apart. It can then be given annually.
“Influenza infections are best prevented and controlled by vaccination,” says Dr. Crawford. “Vaccination reduces the number of susceptible individuals and increases community immunity; ultimately, the outcome will be a decrease in the risk of exposure for all dogs.”
Ask your veterinarian if the canine influenza vaccine is appropriate for your dog.
About the Canine Influenza Vaccine
- The vaccine is intended to control the spread of the canine influenza virus. Although it may not keep dogs from getting the virus, it has been proven to significantly reduce the symptoms, severity, and length of illness.
- During tests conducted to evaluate the vaccine, no safety concerns or side effects were noted. “Influenza virus vaccines are safe overall, as demonstrated by their use in other species,” says Dr. Crawford.
- The vaccine cannot cause respiratory infections.
- The canine influenza vaccine is not the same as the vaccine for parainfluenza virus or kennel cough. These other vaccines will not protect dogs against canine influenza.
- The vaccine may be particularly beneficial for dogs that spend time around other dogs, including dogs that are boarded or go to day care, dog parks, dog shows, or canine sporting events.
What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Has Canine Influenza
If your dog develops a cough or runny nose, contact your veterinarian so he or she can arrange to examine your pet and, if necessary, begin appropriate treatment. Because of the highly contagious nature of this disease, it is essential to tell your veterinary hospital that you suspect your dog may have canine influenza.
If your dog has a cough and is having trouble breathing, contact your veterinarian immediately. It could be a sign that your dog has pneumonia. However, other illnesses such as heart disease can also cause this symptom, so an examination is critically important.