Canine influenza also referred to as dog flu, is frequently reported across the country. These viruses are relatively new, which means that the vast majority of dogs are susceptible to infection, as they will not have built up a natural immunity.
This respiratory disease is a contagious illness that can spread between dogs, which means that dog owners need to take appropriate measures in order to protect their pets. If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from dog flu symptoms, then be sure to contact your veterinary clinic to have him checked as soon as possible.
What is Dog Flu?
Canine influenza is a contagious disease that affects a dog’s respiratory system. It is caused by viruses that are known to infect dogs; Type A influenza viruses. There are two types of influenza A canine viruses; H3N2 and H3N8 virus. Dogs have no natural immunity to this disease, as there has been a lack of exposure to it.
The H3N8 version of the dog influenza virus originated in horses and then spreading to dogs. At the moment, it’s a dog specific virus and can only be spread between dogs. H3N2 originated as the avian flu virus, then adapted into a virus that infected dogs. More recently, it has been reported that canine influenza H3N2 has also been found in some cats.
Canine influenza has no reported cases of infection in a human, and there is no evidence that it can be contagious to humans. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, so there is a possibility that a virus could change and be able to infect humans. If this were to happen it could cause a pandemic, as humans will carry no immunity and there is no treatment currently available for humans.
Both H3N2 and H3N8 are being carefully watched so in the event of an influenza virus that could affect humans something could be done about it quickly. All in all, dog influenza virus poses a minuscule risk to humans, but can be deadly for your canine if the virus is not treated. There is a canine influenza vaccine available that helps to prevent your dog from catching dog flu.
How is influenza virus spread?
All dogs can catch dog flu, but the most common way for this virus to spread is through dogs that are in shelters or at kennels. It can be spread through coughing, sneezing, direct contact, and uninfected dogs having contact with contaminated objects.
Signs that your dog may have canine influenza
General signs to look out for:
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
- Red or runny eyes
- Difficulty breathing
When a dog is exposed to the influenza virus, there are two different syndromes they could develop:
- Mild – If your pet has a slight case of dog influenza they will often have a cough and some nasal discharge. The cough is usually moist, but it can also be a dry cough. These symptoms can last for 10 to 30 days and most of the time they will go away on their own.
- Severe – The dog will have a very high fever, often a temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Signs will develop very quickly, and there is a chance that pneumonia can develop. The dog may cough up blood and have trouble breathing as the virus affects the capillaries in the dog’s lungs.
Not all dogs show clinical signs of the disease and can even fight off the infection without any treatment. If you have a dog that is showing any of these signs, then seek veterinary attention. Thankfully, there are only a small percentage of dogs that actually die from the disease.
Diagnosis and treatment
When a dog is brought in showing signs of dog flu, the vet will want to perform a physical, a complete blood count, and clinical chemistry. When a dog has canine influenza, there is often an increase in neutrophil white blood cells, which are harmful to microorganisms.
To help diagnose if a pet has the virus, a blood test can be performed. There is one blood sample taken when symptoms have initially developed and then another around two to three weeks later.
Treatment for dog flu consists of supportive treatments. There are medications that the dog could be prescribed but some are ineffective as they are meant for the dog earlier on. There are other things the vet may suggest to the owner to ensure the dog is comfortable:
- Help raise immunity by giving the dog supplements and good nutrition.
- Give the dog a warm and quiet place to rest and keep them comfortable. When a dog is unwell, they can often feel stressed. Treatments, such as a thundershirt, can help to make the dog feel calm.
- Give it IV fluids to sustain hydration.
- Provide the dog with medications that treat secondary bacterial infections.
If the dog has a severe case of canine influenza, they’ll need some antibiotics, and they will also be hospitalized.