What is Canine Influenza?
Canine Influenza, also known as CIV or the Dog Flu, is a highly contagious dog disease that, when left untreated, can also be deadly. It is a virus that is spread in 3 ways:
- direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs
- uninfected dogs coming into contact with contaminated objects
- moving contaminated objects between infected and uninfected dogs
The Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) has been in existence for 40 years, starting first as an equine (horse) influenza that jumped and adapted to dogs in 2004. Dog Flu spreads very easily between all dog breeds, ages, and sizes. It is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a specific Type A influenza A H3N8 virus, and now a new strain influenza A H3N2 that was first discovered in Asia in 2007. It is theorized that some strains, like the H3N2, may affect cats, but no cases have been recorded in the United States. CIV can occur at any time of the year, as it is not a seasonal virus like the human flu. At this time, there is no evidence that Canine Influenza can transmit from dogs to people.
Dog Flu Symptoms
Symptoms for the Dog Flu are similar to human flu symptoms:
- fever ranging from 104 F – 106 F
- persistent and lingering cough
- runny nose
- loss of appetite
- lack of energy
The Dog Flu is much more serious than the common “Kennel Cough,” or Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis, although some symptoms are similar. The reason symptoms are similar is because CIV is part of the canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) complex. The most common symptom of Kennel Cough is a dry, hacking cough that may sound like honking, while the Dog Flu creates a persistent cough. Both diseases can cause nasal discharge, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. If you are unsure whether your dog may have Kennel Cough or Canine Influenza, you should check with your vet.
Just like with the human flu, severity of Dog Flu symptoms can vary. Some infected dogs may not show signs of the flu, while other dogs have more severe infections. It is estimated that 20% of infected dogs don’t show symptoms and 80% of infected dogs develop a “mild” form of the virus. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of the Dog Flu, it is recommended that you call your vet.
Luckily, your vet is able to test your dog for Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) via respiratory secretions (within the first or second day of showing symptoms) or blood samples (first sample collected when your dog is sick, with a second sample collected two to three weeks later). If your dog tests positive, your vet can recommend treatment. It is best to schedule your dog’s flu test outside your veterinary clinic, as you want to avoid bringing your potentially infected dog into an area where he could interact with other dogs.
How Do You Treat Canine Influenza?
Care for Dog Flu is similar to care for the human version. Your vet may prescribe medicine, but a comfortable place to rest and plenty of water to prevent dehydration is a typical course of treatment. Most dogs will get better in 2 – 3 weeks. Typically, medicine will be used only when evidence of a secondary bacterial infection is present.
It is extremely important to get your dog treatment if he develops Canine Influenza. While it is a treatable disease, severe cases or lack of treatment can result in pneumonia and death. Since most dogs in the United States have not been previously infected or vaccinated against the Dog Flu, almost all dogs exposed to it will get sick. Puppies and senior dogs are more likely to get severely ill from the Dog Flu.
Preventing Dog Flu
There are a few ways you can help to prevent the spread of Canine Influenza:
- Get the Dog Flu Vaccine from your vet to prevent your dog from contracting the virus. The vaccine may not be effective for all strains, but it will help decrease the severity of symptoms if your dog does catch it.
- Make sure your dog is current on all other vaccines. Focusing on other preventative measures will ensure your dog is overall in great health.
- If your dog has the flu, keep him away from other dogs until the virus has run its course.
- Avoid places where there are large quantities of dogs until the outbreak subsides. This includes, but is not limited to, dog parks, dog day cares, boarding facilities, or grooming facilities.
- Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands (or face if licked) should be cleaned and disinfected after exposed to a dog showing symptoms.
- If you play with an infected dog (whether that dog is showing symptoms or not), take care to avoid other dogs until you change your clothes and clean your skin. It is possible to transmit the disease to an uninfected dog via skin and clothes, as the virus can survive on skin for 2 minutes and on clothes for a day or longer.
Canine Influenza Shot Side Effects
If you choose to give your dog the CIV vaccination, there are a few things to be aware of. The Dog Flu Shot does not prevent your dog from contracting the Dog Flu, but it does significantly reduce the duration and degree of viral shedding once your dog has the virus, which is the time the disease is contagious. The vaccination lessens the severity of CIV symptoms and the duration of the virus, which includes reducing the the duration and severity of coughing, as well as protecting against the formations and severity of lung lesions.
As of right now, the vaccination is made for the H3N8 strain of the Dog Flu, and it is not know how the vaccine works against the H3N2 strain. However, the vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of pneumonia.
There are currently no reported side effects or safety issues from the CIV vaccine, as it is developed with inactivated whole virus.