It’s cold and flu season for humans, but did you know that there’s also a dog flu? Here’s what you need to know about canine influenza.
What is canine influenza (dog flu)?
Canine influenza virus, also known as CIV or dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory virus that can affect dogs and cats. There are currently two known strains of CIV that have been identified in the United States: H3N8 and H3N2. While there has been evidence of dog-to-cat transmission, there have, thus far, been no cases of human infection with canine influenza.
Where did CIV come from?
The H3N8 virus initially started in horses more than 40 years ago. However, in 2004, dogs (initially greyhounds) began to exhibit signs of an unknown respiratory illness in the United States. It was discovered that this illness was caused by the equine influenza A H3N8 virus. Scientists believe this virus jumped species and has now adapted to cause illness in and spread from dog to dog. Particularly in kennel or shelter environments where there are close quarters as well as shared bowls and bedding. This virus is now considered a canine-specific H3N8 virus.
H3N2 began as an avian flu virus that has adapted to infect dogs. Although cats can also be infected by H3N2, it is a disease specific to dogs. This virus is different from human seasonal H3N2 viruses. H3N2 was first detected in dogs in South Korea in 2007 and has since been reported in China and Thailand. It was first detected in the United States in 2015.
At this time, neither virus has shown a predilection for a particular breed of dog. This means that all breeds are equally susceptible to infection.
How is canine influenza transmitted?
Dogs infected by H3N8 can be contagious for up to five days while dogs infected with H3N2 can be contagious off and on for up to 24 days.
Depending on the strain, CIV typically has a two- to four-day incubation period where the infected dog shows no symptoms of illness but is most contagious. Nasal secretions transferred via coughing, barking, or sneezing are typically the most dangerous. Dogs in close quarters are most likely to transfer the virus amongst themselves – using shared water bowls, sharing a kennel, or improper sanitation of items used by an infected dog can all help spread CIV.
Locations where dogs co-mingle are the most likely locations for a dog to contract the virus – kennels, shelters, groomers, doggy day cares, dog parks, or coming in contact with humans who have also been in contact with infected dogs.
If one of your pets is coughing or showing other signs of a respiratory infection, isolate the dog and thoroughly sanitize anything the ill pet has come in contact with. Also, isolate any other animals that may have come in contact with the infected pet or items contacted by the infected pet. The virus can live outside of a host for up to 48 hours depending on conditions.
What are the symptoms of canine influenza?
Typical symptoms of canine influenza include cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge, and reduced appetite. However, not all dogs who are infected will show symptoms. This does not mean they can’t infect other dogs. If you think your dog has been exposed to CIV, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately so they can diagnose and treat as necessary.
Most dogs recover within two to three weeks; however, some dogs can go on to develop pneumonia if not properly treated.
CIV is not seasonal, dogs can develop canine influenza year-round.
Cats have thus far only been known to contract H3N2. Symptoms of cats infected with H3N2 include nasal discharge, congestion, malaise, lip smacking, and excessive salivation.
How is canine influenza diagnosed?
There are laboratory tests available to test for both H3N8 and H3N2. Consult your veterinarian immediately if your pet has been exposed to an infected animal or if your pet is showing signs of a respiratory infection.
How is canine influenza treated?
Treatment largely consists of keeping your dog comfortable and hydrated. Mild cases may not need any additional care beyond hydration. Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics if a secondary infection is a possibility.
When bringing your pet to the veterinarian with a possible canine influenza case, let your vet’s office know the reason of your visit ahead of time. They may want to use precautions when bringing your pet into the office to prevent exposure of other pets in the waiting rooms or lobby. This is nothing to be concerned about and is simply standard procedure when dealing with a contagious illness.
Is there a vaccine for CIV?
Vaccines for both forms of CIV exist for dogs. There is also a single vaccine to protect against both strains. There is currently no vaccine for cats to prevent or protect from CIV. As with human vaccines, the vaccines for canine influenza may not prevent your dog from becoming ill, however, they can greatly reduce your dog’s symptoms as well as the amount of time your dog is ill.
Additionally, your dog may not need the vaccine at all as the CIV vaccine is considered a “lifestyle” vaccine. Meaning, if your dog is going to be in situations where the exposure risk is greater – boarding, attending events where other dogs are present, visiting dog parks – you may want to get your dog vaccinated. However, if your pup is a stay at home kinda guy or gal, then they may be fine without getting the vaccine as their exposure risk is low.
Some positive numbers:
While 80% of dogs exposed to canine influenza do become infected, the current mortality rate for CIV is less than 10%. To date, no fatalities have been reported in cats infected with CIV.
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