Fever, cough and a running nose—we know the symptoms and can probably remember, in yucky detail, how terrible we felt the last time we battled the flu. Each fall millions of people line up for a seasonal flu vaccine in hopes of preventing that dreadful experience for another year.
Now think of your dog experiencing those same symptoms. Yes, there is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs known as the canine influenza virus. This virus was first recognized in horses over 40 years ago and it was first diagnosed in greyhounds in 2004. Dogs cannot give this strain of influenza to people, but people can help spread the virus among dogs.
How can my dog get the flu and what symptoms should I be aware of?
Like human flu strains, canine influenza is a highly contagious airborne virus which can also be spread by direct contact with contaminated objects such as clothing, counters, bowls and toys. Initial symptoms resemble canine cough (also referred to as kennel cough) and include:
- Moist or dry, hacking cough lasting up to 30 days
- Nasal discharge
- Low-grade fever
And don’t expect that Fido or Fifi will be interested in walking or playing. Sometimes the illness can result in pneumonia which can be deadly.
Should my dog be vaccinated for canine influenza?
Since canine influenza is highly contagious, the virus is easily passed among dogs. If your dog is at all social, attending dog parks, walking around town, going to the groomer, playing at a dog daycare, or staying at a lodging facility, then vaccinating your dog is recommended. The vaccine does not prevent a dog from getting the flu but will reduce the length and severity of the episode.
“At Doylestown Veterinary Hospital we speak with every client about canine influenza. For many, it is the first time they have heard about this relatively new virus. Because canine influenza virus is novel, dogs don’t have any natural immunity to protect them and this why we encourage our clients to be proactive and protect their dogs with vaccination. The decision to vaccinate for canine influenza is primarily based on the pet’s lifestyle and we recommend it for all dogs that are in contact with other dogs such as those who go to dog shows, dog parks, lodging facilities, grooming salons and doggie daycares. A major concern I have as a veterinarian is the fact that people can transmit canine influenza. Owners who have handled an infected dog can transmit the virus on their hands and clothing to their other pets. This is the primary reason I vaccinate my own dogs for canine influenza,” said DVH staff veterinarian Dr. Lois Palin.
Talk with your veterinarian about canine influenza and the vaccine.
It’s best to discuss prevention of canine influenza with your veterinarian to determine if giving the vaccine to your pet is the right course of action.
If your dog develops a cough, then you should visit your veterinarian immediately. Tests to confirm canine influenza include collection of respiratory secretions or blood samples. The doctor will explain the test and results, the disease, a treatment plan, and the need for a follow-up examination.
Unfortunately canine influenza is a virus so there’s no instant cure. Providing supportive care such as making sure the dog stays well-hydrated and controlling secondary infections will go a long way in helping your pet feel better. If a secondary bacterial infection is diagnosed, then antibiotics may be prescribed. Prevention is the best medicine. Talk to your veterinarian about canine influenza and the benefits of vaccinating your pets.