AIMSS_iStock_000073687569_LargeMost of the infectious diseases we treat in veterinary medicine have been around for a while. We know them and what to expect when a pet contracts them. Every so often, though, a new infectious disease emerges and we are caught unaware as it begins to affect our pet population. Most recently, this has been canine influenza.

The Emergence of Canine Influenza

The dog flu, or canine influenza, is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs, caused by a virus. Despite its name, it is not the same flu that people get.

Canine influenza first showed its face in the United States among racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. This viral outbreak caught us by surprise, as it had previously been a rare disease. Last April, however, dogs in the Chicago area began to become sick from what looked to be a serious kennel cough outbreak..

This form of “kennel cough” seemed to be more aggressive that what is usually seen, and was characterized by heavy nasal discharge in addition to the honking cough associated with kennel cough. Scarier still, a great number of dogs also developed pneumonia as a result of the infection, making the situation quite dire.

Before long, it was determined that the reason this kennel cough outbreak was different was due to the involvement of the canine influenza virus. Unlike the previous canine influenza cases, which had been caused by the H3N8 strain of the flu virus, this strain was identified as H3N2, an Asian strain of the dog flu that had not been seen in the US until that point.

The Dog Flu and Our Pets

Both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the canine influenza result in respiratory symptoms. Typically, the disease appears as a mild to moderate cold with the most common symptoms including:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever

While most pets recover from canine influenza, a small percentage may go on to develop pneumonia, which can result in serious illness or even death.

Canine influenza is spread through contact with infected respiratory secretions. This makes dogs in close quarters with other dogs at increased risk for contracting the disease.

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Prevention is key when trying to protect your pet from any infectious disease, and canine influenza is no exception. Thankfully, there are several ways pet owners can be proactive when it comes to keeping their pets healthy.

Update those vaccines – Like many diseases, kennel cough and canine influenza can be decreased in incidence and severity with vaccination. The distemper combination vaccine is known to prevent two of the major players in canine kennel cough. Pets who spend lots of time around other dogs such as at a boarding facility, groomer, dog park, or doggy daycare should also be vaccinated against Bordetella (kennel cough). There are also vaccines available for both the H3N2 and H3N8 strains of canine influenza.

Assess your risk – Use caution when exposing your dog to other pets, particularly if he or she is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system. Be sure that your pet’s vaccines have been boostered properly (call us if you are not sure) and double check that any facility you take them to is verifying vaccination records for all canine visitors.

Decrease spread – A little hygiene goes a long way towards preventing many diseases. Canine influenza is transmitted through respiratory secretions, which includes saliva. Be aware that the virus can potentially be present on shared toys, bowls, enclosures, and even your clothing. Wash your hands after being around other pets and use caution if allowing your dog to share items with others.

Pay attention – Be observant when it comes to your pet’s daily habits and overall health. Do not delay in calling us if you think that your pet may be acting sick, especially after being around other animals. Most fatalities caused by canine influenza are preventable when medical care is sought early.

Even though canine influenza is a relatively new disease in the dog world, we are learning more about it all the time. As education and vaccination grows, we hope that its incidence and severity will shrink. Unfortunately, new viruses will always emerge, but thanks to modern medicine, we hope to stay one step ahead of them all the time.