Well, it’s flu season and countless people are at home in bed with a high fever, body aches, coughing and congestion. Nobody likes to get the flu. Even the mildest cases can make you feel awful while severe cases can send you to the hospital. Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who can catch the flu… our dogs can get the flu, too.
Canine Flu in Dogs is not Human Flu
Let’s get this straight right off the bat. The flu that we get is not the same virus that infects our dogs. Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) was first reported in 2004 at a greyhound racetrack in Florida and is a highly contagious respiratory disease that affects dogs, not humans. There has never been a report of a person catching this particular strain of influenza. Many dogs have been affected, however, with cases reported in 30 states.
The Canine (Dog) Flu Virus Spreads Rapidly
Like human flu virus, canine influenza spreads through contact with contaminated
surfaces or inhalation of airborne viral particles. The virus can live for up to 48 hours on dog bowls or toys, can be carried by humans on their shoes or clothes, and can be spread through air contaminated by coughing or sneezing dogs. This means that strict hygiene is necessary to reduce the spread of canine influenza in dog kennels, grooming parlors, and dog parks.
The problem is, it’s hard to tell when a dog is carrying the flu virus since infected dogs shed the virus before they show clinical signs of illness. A seemingly healthy dog can contaminate an entire kennel before he becomes visibly ill. Once an infected dog is identified, he should be isolated because he can shed virus for up to 10 days after he shows signs of the disease.
Dog Flu Symptoms Affect the Young and Old
Dogs with mild cases of CIV are usually listless and have fever (up to 104 degrees). They may have a dry or productive cough and runny noses. In more severe cases, dogs develop serious respiratory infections (pneumonia) that can be fatal.
Dogs at greatest risk of contracting the flu are those that are immuno-suppressed, which means the disease is found in the very young and the very old. If a dog is physically compromised from another disease process or is in poor body condition (malnourished), he’s also at greater risk of catching the flu. But, don’t be complacent. Canine flu can infect dogs of any age or health status.
Diagnosis of Canine Flu Requires Testing
If your dog shows any of the listed symptoms, bring him to your veterinarian. Tell your pet’s doctor about any potentially infected dogs your pet may have come in contact with (at the dog park, grooming parlor, boarding kennel). A good history will hasten an accurate diagnosis.
Your pet’s doctor will examine your dog, perform blood tests, and take a chest radiograph (x-ray). Changes in the blood count may occur with a viral infection and with the secondary bacterial infections that often accompany the flu. Chest radiographs may show evidence of pneumonia. Your veterinarian may take a culture of the respiratory tract to identify secondary bacteria and determine the most effective antibiotic to use. There are also specific blood tests that can help diagnose canine influenza (PCR, antigen test, antibody test) that can be submitted to outside laboratories.
There’s No Cure for the Dog Flu
Like human flu, canine flu has no “cure.” Cases are treated with supportive care including antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections and IV fluids for dehydration. Dogs with severe respiratory infections are treated with oxygen therapy and nebulization (like vaporizer treatment). Cough medications are sometimes used, too.
Dog Flu Vaccination May Prevent Infection
There are vaccines specifically for the canine influenza. The vaccine protocol suggests that two “flu shots” be given 2-4 weeks apart with an annual booster. Vaccination doesn’t always protect dogs from infection, but as with people, vaccinated dogs that get the flu usually have a milder case and are contagious for a shorter period of time. Sorry, dogs don’t have canine Tamiflu!
Human flu season is usually during the winter months, but there’s no specific canine flu season. We have to protect our dogs all year long. So while you’re thinking about your own flu vaccine, look into getting your dog vaccinated, too.
What questions do you have about dog flu? Post a comment here.