Canine Influenza: a Growing Problem
Since it was first discovered, canine influenza has been causing localized outbreaks around the country. According to veterinary experts, it has been reported in more than 30 states. The most recent large outbreak was in Fairfax County, Va., where cases were reported in the area starting in late July. In August, the disease closed the Fairfax County Animal Shelter and spurred at least one nearby veterinary hospital to set up a quarantine unit.
"We’ve created an annex outside our main hospital to see all possible CIV dogs and staff it daily so as not to risk bringing the virus directly into the hospital,” says Mary Ann Vande Linde, DVM, director of organizational development at Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, Va. The virus can live on clothing for up to 24 hours and for up to 12 hours on a person’s hands.
Pender Veterinary Centre is taking the nearby outbreak very seriously. Because CIV is a disease that is new to dogs, they have virtually no immunity to it and it is highly contagious, Vande Linde points out.
“We follow the same procedure for isolation that we would for parvovirus,” she says. “Any dog that is coughing and sneezing, and that presents to the hospital, is seen in our annex. If the dog is in critical condition, it is kept in isolation.”
So far, none of the hospital’s respiratory cases have been positively diagnosed as CIV, but hospital staff members aren’t taking chances.
Dog owners should be aware that any situation in which dogs are brought together increases the risk of exposure. Therefore, if an outbreak is underway, keep your pet close to home if that is possible. Asking questions of kennel owners, groomers, show event managers and veterinary staff, among others, is a first step. You should be able to find out whether any cases of respiratory disease have been reported and what the facility’s policies are regarding disinfection, quarantine and disease prevention. The disease is spread from dog to dog through coughing or sneezing, but it can also contaminate bowls, leashes, collars and the hands and clothing of people who handle sick dogs. Just as with human influenza, frequent hand washing and disinfection may help in preventing the spread of CIV. If you think that your dog is sick with a respiratory disease, isolate it until you can consult with your veterinarian.
My Dog is Coughing — Now What?
If you suspect that your dog is exhibiting signs of a respiratory infection (sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, fever), call your veterinarian first before bringing your pet to the office. If there is an active outbreak in your area, and your pet has a history of exposure to situations where canine influenza may be prevalent (recent stay at a boarding kennel, entry in a dog show, visit to a grooming parlor), your veterinarian may request that you follow specific procedures designed to prevent the spread of disease.
Canine Influenza Fast Facts
- Unlike most human influenza, canine “flu” is not seasonal. It can occur at any time of the year.
- Virtually all exposed dogs will become infected.
- Of those dogs, 80% will develop respiratory illness, while the remaining 20% will not.
- While the overall mortality rate is low and most dogs recover with supportive care within two weeks, a small percentage will become severely ill and some may even die.
- Dogs of any age, breed or size are susceptible to infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment of CIV
Canine influenza cannot be diagnosed by clinical signs alone, because the symptoms — coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever — are similar to those of other respiratory ailments that afflict dogs. For dogs that have been ill for a short time, veterinarians can collect swabs from the nose or throat and submit them to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. They can also collect a blood sample sometime during the first week of illness and then compare it to a second sample obtained 10 to 14 days later.
Because CIV is a virus, the treatment is largely supportive. Seriously ill pets may require fluid therapy, but in most cases, the dog will simply need to be quarantined at home or in a kennel for a period of two weeks while it is potentially contagious. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat a secondary bacterial infection.
Virtually all exposed dogs will become infected with the virus. However, one in five will not show signs, although the dog can still spread the virus. Therefore, any dog that is present in a closed facility (kennel, clinic, pet or grooming shop) in which the presence of CIV is suspected or confirmed should be quarantined whether or not it shows signs of illness. The disease has a two- to four-day incubation period.
Is There a Vaccine?
In May 2009, the USDA approved the first canine influenza vaccine. Although the vaccine may not prevent infection, dogs that are vaccinated typically do not get as sick as unvaccinated dogs and recover more quickly. The vaccine is useful for dogs that may be exposed to high-risk situations, such as time spent in a kennel or boarding facility or visits to a dog park or dog show. If you have questions about whether or not your dog should be vaccinated for canine influenza, ask your veterinarian.