Canine influenza is a growing disease in the dog population. This influenza strain is believed to have emerged from the equine influenza A H3N8 virus and has been around in horses for about 40 years. Canine influenza (H3N8) has been seen in racing Greyhounds since 1999 when the disease migrated from horses to dogs.
The disease spread when infected horses and Greyhounds raced on the same track. By 2004, canine influenza spread to several states in the US. It is now accepted that all dog breeds are susceptible to this strain of influenza. Canine influenza spreads rather efficiently among the dog population, as there are no antibodies developed for this new disease to offer immunity.
Resulting from this lack of immunity, the disease spreads from direct contact with infected dogs and contact of contaminated objects including clothing. Although canine influenza currently cannot be passed on to humans, we can spread the disease by moving from infected dogs to uninfected dogs. Symptoms of canine influenza are the same as a respiratory infection similar to Kennel Cough:
- Persistent Coughing – lasting 10 to 30 days
- Runny Nose
- Mild Fever
- Nasal Discharge
These symptoms may last for 3 to 4 weeks regardless of treatment. More severe cases develop high fever with an elevated respiratory rate as well as other signs of pneumonia or bronchopneumonia. It is therefore, our responsibility as pet owners with dogs showing symptoms of respiratory infections not to participate in any activities with other dogs i.e. training classes or visits to the dog park.
As the symptoms for canine influenza are quite common, it is difficult to distinguish between a cold, kennel cough, or influenza. There are tests available to determine whether your dog is infected with canine influenza. Tests are performed by taking respiratory secretions during the time of the disease and two blood samples; first taken during the symptoms and one after 2 – 3 weeks.
The incubation period is about 2 to 5 days from exposure of the disease to showing signs of infection. Canine influenza is most contagious during 2 – 4 days post infection; meaning dogs are most infectious prior to showing signs of illness. Studies show that this period of contagiousness ceases after about seven days post infection.
As of May 2009, there is the first USDA approved canine influenza vaccination available for your dog. While this vaccination is not intended to prevent the disease, it is considered an aid to help control canine influenza. Studies have also shown that this vaccination against canine influenza may significantly reduce the severity of the disease as well as shorten the peak contagious period. Thereby vaccinated dogs that become infected develop a less severe strain and are less likely to spread canine influenza to other dogs.
As pet owners there is some preparation and preventive measures we can take to keep our dogs health in check:
- Make sure all vaccinations are up to date.
- If you must kennel your dog or you attend training classes, ensure the cleanliness of the facility and its workers. Canine influenza is highly susceptible to disinfectant. Most household cleaners and bleach will kill the virus.
- If your dog is symptomatic, do not participate in any activities where they may be exposed to other dogs. Consult your Veterinarian if symptoms persist longer than 7 days.
As all dog breeds are susceptible to canine influenza and with the current vaccination able only to control the disease, and aid in spreading; keeping your dog in good health is the best preventative treatment. A good quality diet and exercise will help your dog develop a strong immune system.