Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a respiratory disease that came into evidence about a decade ago. Contagious only among dogs, this virus originated in horses as H3N8 equine influenza and transformed into a canine disease in 2004 when it was originally identified in greyhounds.
Symptoms of Canine Influenza
Although a small percentage of dogs are asymptomatic with canine influenza, the majority will develop a cough, runny nose and fever.
About 80 percent of dogs who contract this disease will have mild cases and the mortality rate is very low. Nonetheless, a small number of dogs that develop canine flu will develop severe infections such as pneumonia.
Diagnosis of Canine Influenza
Canine influenza is diagnosed through analysis of oral or nasal secretions and by administration of two blood tests, one at the outset of the disease and one 2 to 3 weeks later.
Treatment of Canine Influenza
Most treatment of canine influenza is supportive in nature. Dogs are kept well-hydrated and may be given prescribed medications for symptom relief. The veterinarian may also prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics prophylactically or if a bacterial infection is suspected or diagnosed. If the affected dog develops more severe symptoms or pneumonia, temporary hospitalization may be required.
Prevention of Canine Influenza
There is now an approved vaccine for canine influenza. Since all dogs are susceptible to the illness, it is a good idea to get all dogs inoculated. The vaccine is administered in two shots 2 weeks apart and annual booster shots are required. While the vaccine does not prevent all cases of the canine flu, it has been proven to lessen duration and severity of symptoms.
Canine influenza is extremely contagious to other dogs through contact with secretions. The germs are also airborne. Avoiding contact with symptomatic dogs and with contaminated objects such as bones, towels, toys and food or water bowls is necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.
There is no way to entirely prevent contact with dogs that are ill, since about 20 percent of infected dogs show no symptoms of influenza.
Those with sick dogs should avoid bringing them to dog parks or other areas where they may spread the disease. Animals are usually most contagious in the 10 days following the onset of symptoms