Summer is not usually known as flu season, but that is quickly proving to be true for dogs in 2015. Canine Influenza Virus (CIV), commonly referred to as dog flu, is quickly spreading to canines throughout the country. According to the Veterinary Division of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, an alarming number of cases of canine influenza have been documented throughout the state. Dog flu is highly contagious and is easily spread from dog to dog through direct contact, exposure to secretions from coughing and sneezing, and contaminated objects, including clothing. All dogs are at risk of infection when exposed to the CIV regardless of a dog’s breed, age or health status. Canine influenza occurs throughout the year, unlike what we expect with the seasonality of the human flu.
Canine Influenza Virus Symptoms and Diagnosis
Infected dogs develop a persistent cough. Some dogs also develop a thick nasal discharge and fever. Other signs can include lethargy, eye discharge, reduced appetite, and low-grade fever. Most dogs recover within two to three weeks. Secondary bacterial infections can develop, causing more severe illness and pneumonia. Simple tests can be performed by your vet to confirm the virus.
Transmission and Prevention
Although CIV was first identified in the US over 11 years ago, a new strain of virus (H3N2), not previously found in this country is quickly spreading this year. Dogs in the US have not been previously exposed to this strain of CIV, lack immunity to it, and are susceptible to infection if exposed. A small percentage of infected dogs will not show symptoms, but will still be able to shed the virus to other dogs. The majority (80%) of the dogs exposed will develop flu-like symptoms. The mortality (death) rate is low (less than 10%).
Dogs are most contagious during the two- to four-day incubation period of the virus, when they are infected but are not showing signs of illness. The spread of CIV can be reduced by isolating all dogs that have the virus or have been exposed to an infected dog. Frequent hand washing and thorough cleaning of shared items and kennels can also reduce the spread of CIV. Influenza viruses do not usually survive in an environment beyond 48 hours and can be killed by commonly used disinfectants.
While current vaccines may not completely prevent dog flu infection, they may reduce the severity and duration of the illness and the amount of time a dog is contagious. The best way to prevent the spread of CIV is avoid risk of exposure due to dogs that may be infected, especially at pet stores, boarding facilities, dog parks and events with large numbers of dogs. Anyone concerned that a pet is showing signs of canine influenza should immediately contact a veterinarian.
Dog owners should be aware that any situation that brings dogs together increases the risk of spreading communicable illnesses like CIV. Dog owners involved in shows, sports, or other activities with their dogs, or who board their dogs at kennels, should ask whether respiratory disease has been a problem there. Owners should also ask whether the facility has a plan for isolating dogs that develop respiratory disease and for notifying owners if their dogs have been exposed to other dogs with respiratory disease.