We’re all familiar with the human influenza virus that makes the rounds every winter. We sneeze, cough, have a runny nose, and suffer from chills and fever. Your dog can catch the canine influenza virus, and although the symptoms are similar to human flu, it’s not the same flu virus that infects people.
The canine influenza virus (CIV) is a highly contagious airborne virus which can also be easily spread among dogs by direct contact with contaminated objects such as clothing, counters, bowls and toys. The signs of CIV are virtually identical to those caused by many other viruses and the bacteria that cause Canine Cough or the Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIRD) complex. A dog will develop:
- Moist or dry, hacking cough lasting up to 30 days
- Nasal discharge
- Low-grade fever
Although most dogs will recover without complications, a small percent may develop life-threatening pneumonia. Young puppies, old dogs, and dogs with pre-existing heart or respiratory conditions are at higher risk. Because the clinical signs of CIV closely resemble those of other canine respiratory diseases, any dog showing symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian.
Most dogs are naive to the virus. In other words, their immune systems have never “seen” CIV and thus almost 100% of exposed dogs will become infected. In addition, the 2 to 4 day incubation period from exposure to the development of clinical signs is when dogs are at their most contagious. Peak viral shedding takes place when a dog is either showing no signs of disease or, at most, a slight runny nose.
There is a safe and effective vaccine that covers both strains of CIV. The common H3N8 strain and the newer H3N2 strain have been confirmed in Pennsylvania in the past. The vaccine does not prevent a dog from getting the flu but will reduce the length and severity of the episode.
The vaccine is strongly recommended for any dog that has a social life. Respiratory viruses can be encountered at dog parks, grooming salons, pet care facilities, veterinary clinics, on your pet sitter’s clothing or on walks around your neighborhood. Most quality pet care facilities will recommend or require this bivalent vaccine in order to protect the dogs in their care.
“Because canine influenza virus is novel, dogs don’t have any natural immunity to protect them and this why we encourage our clients at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital 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.
If your dog develops signs of respiratory disease, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Treatment for most cases of CIV consists of keeping your dog in a warm and dry environment, feeding high quality food, and offering plenty of fluids. If your veterinarian is concerned about secondary bacterial infections, an antibiotic may be prescribed. Your dog should be kept at home for two weeks in order to avoid exposing other dogs. Since the virus is not contagious to people, you can safely provide the love and care that will help your dog return to full health.
Prevention is the best medicine. Talk to your veterinarian about canine influenza and the benefits of vaccinating your dogs. Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center has been proactive in ensuring the best protection for our guests by adding the bivalent vaccine to the list of required vaccinations.