You’ve probably already heard all about canine influenza. It’s been talked about fairly frequently in the popular press and on dog forums across the internet. So, what’s truth and what fiction? Let’s talk about that.
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What is canine influenza? Canine influenza is caused by the influenza virus designated as H3N8. It is not contagious to people as far as we know but it is very contagious to other dogs and is very easily passed. In fact, in communities where canine influenza is a new infection, virtually all dogs are likely to be susceptible to infection. Without prior exposure, none of the dogs in the community are likely to have any natural immunity to the disease.
Canine influenza should not be confused with other types of influenza, such as the H1N1 influenza that caused the 2009 epidemic. There are many different strains of influenza and, though canine influenza is similar to other strains of influenza, it is a strain of its own.
How serious is canine influenza? In most cases, canine influenza is a self-limiting disease. Some dogs may remain asymptomatic and never show any signs of illness. Others may have a soft, wet cough. In some cases the cough may last as long as 3-4 weeks. Other symptoms sometimes seen are fever, runny nose, fatigue, and loss of appetite. However, less commonly, canine influenza can cause a serious form of pneumonia and can become life-threatening. It is estimated that roughly 8% of infected dogs (less than one in ten) will develop this type of complication. However, it is impossible to predict which dogs will develop pneumonia.
How is the disease diagnosed? Canine influenza produces symptoms very similar to those seen with other forms of upper respiratory infection. It is considered to be one of the factors that can be part of the disease complex known as “kennel cough”. Other factors that can be involved with “kennel cough” includeBordetella, parainfluenza, environmental factors such as smoke and dust, and crowded conditions (such as that seen in a kennel situation.) Blood tests can be done to detect the canine influenza virus but, without blood testing, the virus cannot be differentiated from other forms of “kennel cough”.
How is canine influenza treated? Like most forms of “kennel cough”, canine influenza is treated symptomatically. Because it is a viral disease, there is no specific definitive cure. For some dogs, no treatment is necessary. For others, antibiotics may be indicated. If the cough is severe, cough suppressants may be advised. However, many veterinarians prefer to use cough suppressants only for those dogs that have a cough severe enough that is interfering with their normal daily activities.
How can a dog be protected against canine influenza? Your dog can be vaccinated against canine influenza. However, this vaccine is not considered a core vaccine. This means that the decision to vaccinate should be made based on your dog’s lifestyle and risk of exposure to disease. 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. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s individual risk and whether vaccination is in your dog’s best interest.
For more information on Canine Influenza check out MyPet.com.