Canine influenza (CI) is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs, and it can spread very quickly among dogs. Because it’s a relatively new disease, most dogs have no immunity to the virus. However, with proper care and prevention, your dogs can escape with few lingering effects.
Canine Influenza Origin
Canine influenza, also known as dog flu, is derived from equine influenza, and it was first found in racing greyhounds in 2004. Since then it’s been detected in 30 states. Because it’s a respiratory disease, it spreads quickly through direct contact and airborne pathogens, especially in locations like kennels, clinics, dog parks and more. An estimated 80 percent of dogs who come in contact with the virus will develop the disease.
Canine Influenza Symptoms
The most common symptom of canine influenza is a persistent cough that lasts up to three weeks. Secondary infections may also cause sneezing, nasal discharge and a low-grade fever. Severe cases include an increased respiratory rate and a high-grade fever, often leading to pneumonia. Since the symptoms are similar to other diseases such as kennel cough, canine influenza is difficult to diagnose without a blood test.
How to Treat Dog Flu
There is no direct treatment for canine influenza. Supportive care, good nutrition and vitamins are necessary to boost the dog’s immune system so he can fight off the infection. Antibiotics can also be used to treat the secondary infections. A more severe form of the virus might require fluids to prevent dehydration. Most dogs recover from the disease within a few weeks, but secondary pneumonia can be life-threatening, with a five to eight percent fatality rate.
Since the canine influenza virus is easily killed by disinfectants, thorough cleaning habits can control the virus from spreading. Follow isolation protocols for any dogs with the virus, keeping them separate from healthy dogs. Always wash your hands and the supplies you use after caring for an infected dog.
Prevention: H3N8 Vaccine for Dogs
There is a H3N8 vaccine for dogs available for canine influenza, but it only reduces the severity of the disease; it does not prevent it. These vaccines are made with a killed version of the virus, so there’s no chance of infection. Tests have shown vaccines are well-tolerated with no side effects. Since many dogs have routine contact with other dogs, most dogs are candidates for the vaccine. Annual re-vaccination with a single dose is recommended.
As with any disease, sanitary living conditions and quality health care are necessary to prevent serious diseases. Avoid taking your pet anywhere they might have contact with unknown dogs. If your dog could potentially come in contact with canine influenza, consider vaccinating against the disease. Although influenza can be a serious disease, it can also be handled effectively to keep your dogs healthy and strong.
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Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.