With reports of canine influenza/dog flu detected in southern and western parts of the country, we asked ARLGP Shelter Veterinarian, Dr. Beth Sperry, to give us some insight on what canine influenza is, how it is spread, and prevention/treatment protocols.
It is important to reiterate that if your dog is showing symptoms of infection, disease or distress, to consult your veterinarian immediately.
What is canine influenza (CI)?
Canine influenza (CI), commonly referred to as the dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs that is caused by the Influenza A virus. In the United States, canine influenza has been caused by two influenza strains: H3N8 and H3N2. There is no evidence of cross-species infection with the H3N8 CI strain. The H3N2 strain, however, has been reported in Asia to infect cats, and there’s also some evidence that guinea pigs and ferrets can become infected.
Two clinical syndromes have been seen in dogs infected with the canine influenza virus; a mild form of the disease and a more severe form that is accompanied by pneumonia. Dogs infected with CI develop a persistent cough and may develop a thick nasal discharge and fever. Other signs can include lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite.
How is CI spread?
CI is highly contagious and easily spreads from infected dogs to other dogs by direct contact, nasal secretions (through barking, coughing or sneezing), contaminated objects (kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes), and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs of any breed, age, gender or health status are at risk of infection when exposed to the virus.
What is the treatment for CI?
As with any disease caused by a virus, treatment is largely supportive. Good animal care practices and nutrition assist dogs in mounting an effective immune response. The course of treatment depends on the pet’s condition, including the presence or absence of a secondary bacterial infection, pneumonia, dehydration, or other medical issues.
What are methods of prevention?
Dog owners should be aware that any situation that brings dogs together increases the risk of spread of communicable illnesses. Good infection control practices can reduce that risk. Dog owners involved in sports or activities with their dogs, or who board their dogs at kennels/day cares, should ask whether respiratory disease has been a problem there, and whether the facility has a plan for isolating dogs that develop respiratory disease and for notifying owners if their dogs have been exposed to dogs with respiratory disease. As long as good infection control practices are in place, pet owners should not be overly concerned about putting dogs in training facilities, dog parks, kennels, or other areas frequented by dogs.
There is a vaccine for the H3N2 strain of CI; it is not known whether the H3N8 vaccine will offer any protection against the H3N2 strain. Canine influenza vaccines are considered “lifestyle” vaccines, meaning the decision to vaccinate is based on a dog’s risk of exposure. Dog owners should consult their veterinarian to determine whether vaccination is needed.