Unlike most human influenzas, canine flu is not seasonal — it can occur at any time of the year. Canine influenza virus (CIV) was first detected in 2004 in racing greyhounds in Florida. Investigators learned that this new canine influenza developed when an equine influenza virus adapted to infect dogs. This was the first time that an equine influenza virus had been found to “jump” from horses to dogs. According to Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, canine influenza does not infect people, and there is no documentation that cats have become infected by exposure to dogs with CIV.
CIV is spread between dogs through direct contact (coughing, sneezing or facial licking) or indirect contact (contaminated bowls, leashes, collars, or the hands or clothing of people who handle ill dogs). Virtually all dogs exposed to CIV become infected; however, 20% of dogs don’t show signs but can still spread the virus. Infected dogs usually develop signs of illness within 2 to 4 days. If your dog has been to a place such as a kennel, hospital, pet or grooming shop, or dog park, where the presence of CIV is suspected or confirmed, contact your veterinarian. Your dog may need to be quarantined even if he or she doesn’t show signs of illness. If your dog shows signs of a respiratory infection (sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge or fever), you should keep her away from other dogs and contact your veterinarian.
Canine influenza cannot be diagnosed by signs alone because the signs are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses in dogs. For dogs that have been sick for a short time, veterinarians swab the nose or throat and submit samples to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Specific blood testing can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.
Because CIV is a virus, the treatment mostly involves supportive care recommended by your veterinarian. Seriously ill dogs might need fluid therapy, but most only need to be quarantined at home or in a kennel for 2 weeks while potentially contagious. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat a subsequent bacterial infection.
Any time your dog spends with other dogs increases his risk of exposure to CIV, so if an outbreak is occurring in your area, don’t allow your dog to have contact with other dogs. Ask kennel owners, groomers, show event managers and your veterinarian what their facilities’ policies are regarding disinfection, quarantine and disease prevention. As with human influenza, frequent hand washing and disinfection may help prevent the spread of CIV.
In May 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the first CIV vaccine. It may not prevent infection, but vaccinated dogs usually don’t become as sick as unvaccinated dogs and do recover more quickly. The vaccine is useful for dogs that are exposed to high-risk environments like kennels, boarding facilities, dog parks or dog shows.
Ask your veterinarian whether your dog should be vaccinated against CIV. According to veterinary experts, CIV has been reported in more than 30 states and in the District of Columbia. Ask your veterinarian whether the disease has been reported in your area; if it has, take steps to prevent your dog from contracting it.
Click on the following articles for more information: Fast Facts About Canine Influenza and Canine Influenza: A Growing Problem, or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the American Veterinary Medical Association websites.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter November / December 2010, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2010 AAHA. Find out more.