There are many scary truths, half-truths, and total misconceptions about canine influenza, so our goal is to clear up any confusion by answering the most commonly asked questions about this serious disease.
What is canine influenza?
Canine influenza is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus that is seen in dogs in two manifestations—mild and severe.
- Mild — Dogs with the mild form of canine influenza typically have a persistent cough that can hang around for up to a month, and can be moist and productive, or dry and hacking, similar to kennel cough. Dogs with the mild form of influenza may also develop secondary bacterial infections, and have some mild nasal discharge. The mild form typically resolves on its own without antibiotics or antiviral medications.
- Severe — Dogs who have the severe form of canine influenza will present with more serious signs, such as a high fever and pneumonia. Rectal temperatures as high as 106oF—normal canine temperatures range from 101.5 to 102.5oF—are seen, as well as increased respiratory rate, difficulty breathing, and coughed-up blood. The most distressing aspect of severe canine influenza is the rapid onset of signs and potential rapid death.
How is canine influenza spread?
Unfortunately, the general canine population has not yet developed immunity to canine influenza. Additionally, the virus can evolve slightly from year to year, and has the potential to fly under the radar of your dog’s natural defenses.
Canine influenza is spread via aerosol transmission (i.e., sneezing or coughing), direct oral-nasal contact with infected dogs, or exposure to contaminated surfaces, such as exam tables, food bowls, or cages.
Is this disease new? Where did it come from?
Canine influenza was first seen in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004, and has been reported in nearly every state since. The virus itself is closely related to equine influenza, which suggests that the canine virus evolved from the equine influenza virus.
How do I know if my dog has canine influenza?
While we may suspect canine influenza if your dog presents with clinical signs consistent with the disease, the only way we can definitively diagnose the disease is by submitting a nasal fluids sample to an outside laboratory for testing. If your dog has the mild influenza form, a definitive diagnosis may not be necessary, but for more severe cases, we would submit deep nasal swab samples to look for the presence of the virus.
What is the treatment for canine influenza?
Similarly to kennel cough, treatment may not be necessary if your dog has a mild influenza form. Some cases, however, may warrant supportive treatment that includes medications to reduce coughing, although we try to save antibiotics for severe or high-risk patients to limit the chances of antibiotic resistance.
If your dog has been diagnosed with severe influenza, we will probably hospitalize her. Treatment will be largely supportive, but we likely will also administer fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics intravenously to combat secondary bacterial infections.
Can canine influenza spread to other family members?
Canine influenza currently only spreads among dogs. There is no evidence that canine influenza can spread to you, your children, or your other non-canine, four-legged family members.
How can I protect my dogs?
Currently, a canine influenza vaccine is available for at-risk dogs. If your dog receives the bordetella vaccine, he’ll likely be a candidate for the canine influenza vaccine as well. Depending on the local disease presence, our recommendations regarding the vaccine will vary from year to year. Unfortunately, the canine influenza vaccine cannot prevent infection, or prevent infected dogs from shedding the virus into the environment; however, the vaccine does reduce the severity of clinical signs and disease duration.
Our veterinary team can discuss your pet’s individual needs regarding the vaccine. For instance, if your pet is traveling to an area with a known outbreak, or she stays in a high-density facility, such as a boarding or daycare operation, an annual vaccination makes sense. The vaccine does not provide a one-size-fits-all influenza solution for dogs, so we should talk about the best option for your family at your next hospital visit.
You are no doubt asking if you should be worried about canine influenza, given all the scary information you have read. We know you love your dog, and it’s natural to worry about the ones we love. The truth is, most dogs who contract canine influenza develop the mild disease form, and unless there is a current outbreak in our area, your dog is extremely unlikely to be exposed to the virus.
Rest assured that if an outbreak occurs in our area, or the surrounding areas, we’ll alert all our clients to the threat, and then help you decide what is best for your dog and your family.
If you still have lingering doubts or questions about canine influenza, give us a call. We will happily set your mind at ease.