Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory virus. 80% of dogs that are exposed to the virus contracted the disease. The virus is similar to the human influenza virus. It is the H3N8 strain that only affects dogs. There have been many outbreaks around the country. Texas is currently having an epidemic. Locally there have been cases reported in Palm Beach and Highlands counties.
Clinical signs of canine influenza include persistent, occasionally moist productive cough, low-grade fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, inappetence, and in severe cases, pneumonia, and even death. The cough can persist up to a month and can be confused with the less virulent kennel cough. Kennel cough is caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica and is treated with antibiotics. Canine influenza should be suspected in a dog that does not respond quickly to antibiotics.
Dogs that are at highest risk are ones that are kenneled in boarding facilities, go to grooming salons, doggie parks, and areas where they are exposed to other dogs. Canine influenza is generally spread through aerosol contact through coughing, direct contact like kissing, licking, and nuzzling. Transmission can also occur through contact with contaminated surfaces and clothing. A person can transmit the virus when they get the virus on their hands and touch things like doorknobs exposing other people to the virus.
There is no specific treatment for canine influenza. Treatment is supportive with antibiotics, hospitalization, iv fluids, and good nutritional support. Infected patients sometimes need to be hospitalized for many days on oxygen support.
Prevention and minimizing exposure is the key to controlling the disease. A well cared for dog, that is up to date on its vaccines, on a good plane of nutrition, and is current on heartworm prevention will be much more likely to have a good immune system, and more capable of fighting the disease. There is an effective, safe vaccine to prevent the canine influenza virus. It is given twice the first year, 2 weeks apart, and then yearly after that. Dogs that are boarded or groomed regularly should be vaccinated and pet owners should select those establishments that require dogs to be vaccinated against canine influenza over those that do not. Dog owners should avoid areas where dogs congregate like stores, doggie parks, kennels, and grooming shops when news that the virus is present in a particular area.