Canine influenza is a disease that frequently gets media coverage, particularly when it strikes a shelter or kennel in a local community. In many cases, when an infected dog is introduced into a community, other dogs in the area have no immunity because they have never before been introduced to the disease. As a result, infection rates can near 100%. The majority of dogs exposed to the infected dog become infected also. Fortunately, in most cases, canine influenza produces a fairly mild respiratory disease that is often self-limiting in nature. Unfortunately, a small percentage of infected dogs develop a much more serious form of pneumonia.
What Exactly Is Canine Influenza?
Canine influenza is caused by the influenza virus designated as H3N8. It should not be confused with other strains of influenza. This particular form of influenza is infectious only to dogs and does not affect other species.
The disease is a respiratory infection that is spread from dog to dog by direct contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions from infected dogs. It can also spread through contact with contaminated objects, or by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs.
What Are the Symptoms of Canine Influenza?
The most common symptom seen with canine influenza is a cough. Infected dogs often have a runny nose and fever. The cough may persist for several weeks. However, some infected dogs remain asymptomatic and never become ill. A small percentage develop a severe, life-threatening pneumonia.
Canine influenza appears similar to other forms of “kennel cough” and, though there are specific blood tests that can detect and diagnose the disease, many cases are not definitively diagnosed beyond a broad diagnosis of kennel cough.
How Is Canine Influenza Treated?
Because canine influenza is caused by a virus, there is no specific cure. Treatment is symptomatic. Some dogs may require no treatment at all. For others, antibiotics may be required to treat or to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Fluid therapy may be necessary to prevent dehydration. For those dogs that develop pneumonia, more aggressive treatment and nursing care may be necessary. Unfortunately, for these dogs, treatment is not always successful.
Can Canine Influenza Be Prevented?
There are vaccinations available against canine influenza. Vaccination for canine influenza does not prevent infection with the influenza virus. However, vaccinated dogs typically have a much shorter course of disease with less severe symptoms. Pneumonia is less likely for vaccinated dogs.
The vaccination against canine influenza is not necessarily recommended for all dogs, though. An assessment of your dog’s lifestyle and degree of risk should be considered before deciding to vaccinate. If your dog is placed in a kennel situation regularly or is around other dogs frequently (boarding, grooming, day care, puppy play classes, obedience training, etc.), your dog may be a candidate for vaccination. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether vaccination is in your dog’s best interest.