Canine Influenza: What Is It?

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January 10, 2012
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A few months ago I got a phone call from a telemarketing agency that focused on pet care. The woman was talking to me about canine influenza. I asked, “Isn’t this kennel cough?” She replied that is often mistaken for kennel cough and continued to talk to me about how it has become a widespread concern for many pet owners. In the end, I had to let her know that as much as I appreciated the information that I did not own a dog. I own two cats. But I asked a few friends who have dogs if they had to do anything extra lately with their dog at the vet, like a new shot or something. Some of my friends live in areas where it was urged to get their dog the leptospirosis shot, and one of my friends who just adopted a dog this past winter is going to talk to her vet this week about canine flu.

What is Canine Influenza?

Canine influenza is a viral infection caused by Influenza Virus A subtype H3N8. It is closely related to equine flu and might be a mutation of that virus. It can cause mild illness but if a dog has a weak immune system or if left untreated, it can be severe.

Typical symptoms of canine influenza include a soft, wet cough with a low fever. This can last about a week or more and there may also be some discharge from the nose that is yellow or green in color if a secondary infection arises. If the dog has a severe case of canine influenza there can be a high fever, difficulty breathing, and heavy discharge. It is not fatal, but can be extremely uncomfortable for dogs and if left untreated, can weaken the immune system and expose them to catch secondary infections.

Is the virus just in a few states, or is it all over?

Not every state, every dog daycare, or boarding facility urges owners to be mindful of canine influenza. This is because it’s an endemic virus. Outbreaks are occurring sporadically in certain areas. Some of the states have had outbreaks of canine influenza are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Rhode Island, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Oregon, among others. If you want to know if your city or state has had an outbreak, talk to your vet.

How does a dog get influenza?

The virus is contagious and spreads from dog to dog by sharing the same environment. It’s respiratory based and so dogs who are together for a period of time at a dog show, boarding facility, or shelter can spread it around. Your dog may catch it from another at a dog park as well even though you are outside.

The symptoms resemble kennel cough or bordatella and only your vet can diagnose if it is canine influenza or something else. There is currently no reliable rapid test available to veterinarians for diagnosing canine influenza but there are tests available at certain diagnostic labs. If your vet suspects that your dog may have the virus, s/he may urge for further testing.

Any dog infected should be kept away from other dogs until the illness completely resolves. Wash your hands often and keep areas clean if you work or have several dogs in the house and one of them is ill. If you work with dogs such as in a shelter, daycare, or boarding facility wear gloves, disinfect areas very well, and make sure that animals that are ill are kept away from others till they are well again.

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