Dog flu: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What is the canine influenza virus?

Canine influenza virus (CIV), also known as the dog flu, is a respiratory illness in dogs caused by specific Type A viruses that infect dogs.

These are known as the “canine influenza viruses.” No human infections from the canine influenza virus have ever happened.

There are two strains. One is h3n8 from an equine or horse origin, and the other is h3n2 from an avian or bird source.

For more than 40 years, the h3n8 virus was found only in horses. In 2004 however, the h3n8 virus or ‘flu’ jumped from horses to dogs. The virus mutated into a form known as the canine influenza virus (CIV), which is highly infectious for dogs.

Veterinarians initially thought h3n8 canine flu would be dangerous and fatal to canines. Fortunately, it kills very few thriving and healthy dogs.

Researchers in Chicago identified a new strain of influenza in March of 2015. (H3N2)Before this, the h3n2 strain of canine influenza had only been found in Asia, jumping from birds to dogs. The h3n2 virus, reported in many states and a few provinces in Canada, was now being detected with increasing frequency. Interestingly a group of researchers found h3n2 in an unexpected place when they noticed it in a group of shelter cats exposed to infected dogs.

Senior yellow Labrador retriever with ice pack surrounded by tissues

Can canine influenza viruses infect people?

In general, canine influenza viruses pose a low threat to humans. There is no evidence that CIV can infect people. In addition, there has been no reported case of humans getting a canine influenza virus in the U.S. or worldwide.

How is the dog flu spread?

Canine influenza viruses are very easily transmitted. CIV infections spread through respiratory secretions, such as sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge. Therefore, objects such as kennel surfaces, food, water bowls, collars, leashes—and the clothing or skin of people who have been in contact with an infected dog—should be considered contaminated and cleaned appropriately. Canine influenza viruses can survive on the skin and hands for 12 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and surfaces for 48 hours.

There is no particular ‘season’ for the canine influenza virus, and infections may occur year-round.

It takes 2 to 4 days for clinical signs of canine influenza to develop after contact with the virus. Infected dogs are contagious during this incubation period before symptoms occur, making rapid transmission likely.

Common signs of canine influenza

• Fever

• Cough

• Sneezing

• Lethargy

• Green or yellow discharge around the eyes or nose

• Runny nose

• Labored breathing

• Reduced appetite

The severity of the illness can go from no signs to severe illness rapidly. If left untreated, it may result in pneumonia or death.

Thankfully, most dogs usually recover in 2-3 weeks. Although, other dogs may develop secondary bacterial infections, leading to more severe illness or pneumonia.

How serious is dog flu?

The percentage of dogs infected with influenza strains that die is tiny. However, some dogs infected show no signs of illness, and some can have a severe infection.

Other conditions that look like canine influenza

Dog flu symptoms are general in appearance, making it hard to differentiate between this disease or other viral infections like Distemper or other adenoviruses.

Kennel cough is another common upper respiratory infection that can be confused with dog flu. The highly contagious bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica causes it.

Always seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect respiratory illness, as some can be very serious and lead to severe illness.

How long does the dog flu last?

Most dogs with the flu will have a mild form of the disease and usually recover in 2-3 weeks.

Dogs with shorter snouts, such as the pug and French bulldog, may have a tough time recovering because of the unique anatomy of their respiratory tract.

Some might develop a secondary bacterial infection that can lead to severe illnesses. Very young puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable to canine influenza.

How is dog flu diagnosed?

The symptoms of canine flu are similar to those of many other diseases, which makes it difficult to diagnose the condition based on symptoms alone. To correctly diagnose the presence of influenza in your dog, your vet will need to do tests to detect and identify which virus is causing the illness.

What tests are performed by the vet?

Small dog getting nasal swab

If a veterinarian sees your dog within the first few days of the onset of clinical signs and symptoms, a nasal swab for a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test can be taken and submitted to a veterinary diagnostic lab. If the PCR test is positive, the dog has canine influenza. At this point, your veterinarian may perform blood testing for CIV antibodies. This type of testing, called serology, involves comparing antibody levels 2 to 3 weeks apart. If your dog’s antibody levels rise significantly over this period, they have an active CIV infection. Your veterinarian may also want to perform other diagnostics, such as blood work and x-rays, to assess the severity of the infection.

Any dog that shows signs of canine influenza should be tested immediately for their benefit and to help determine if the disease is spreading among your local dog population. If cases of canine flu are confirmed in your area, consult your vet, and consider vaccinating your dog.

Benefits of the canine influenza vaccine?

The decision to vaccinate your dog should be based on its lifestyle and risk.

Indoor dogs rarely exposed to other dogs are at less risk than dogs that travel frequently, are in public boarding kennels, or encounter other dogs regularly.

Pet owners who live in areas where outbreaks happen should get their dogs a CIV vaccine. In addition, owners of dogs with respiratory and heart diseases and short-faced breeds should consider getting their dogs the CIV vaccine. As of this writing, no issues have been reported with the vaccine.

Have a conversation with your veterinarian to find out if it is best for your dog to have the vaccination or not.

Home remedies for pet owners to use on their infected dogs

Provide soft, strong-smelling foods.

Because dog flu can make dogs lose their appetites, try giving them softer foods and warming them up a little to enhance the scent.

Make sure they have plenty of water.

Hydration is key to helping your dog make a full recovery. So make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink through recovery.

Make sure your dog is comfortable.

Ensure your dog has a quiet spot to rest and recover.

Keep your dog’s face clean.

Use a warm cloth to wipe your dog’s face to eliminate eye or nose discharge.

Maybe consider an alternative treatment?

CBD oil may help support your dog’s immune system in need.

small dog with IV inserted

How to treat dog flu?

Treatments mainly consist of supportive care that helps keep the dog hydrated and comfortable while its immune system responds to the infection to facilitate recovery.

Currently, no antiviral agents are approved for use in dogs with canine influenza. However, your vet may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help control your dog’s fever and inflammation in the nasal passage. Your vet may also prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected.

Some dogs may not be eating or drinking enough, So they may need to be hospitalized for nutritional support or intravenous fluids. 

How to prevent canine influenza

Dogs infected by canine influenza are most contagious during the two to four days of the virus incubation when they shed the virus in their nasal secretions but don’t show any signs of illness. However, this virus is highly contagious, and almost all dogs in direct contact with CIV will be infected.

To reduce the spread of dog flu, isolate dogs that are sick or show any signs of a respiratory illness or those that have been around other infected dogs.

Another way to help prevent dog flu is to vaccinate your dog and wash your hands after touching other dogs.

Most dogs recover from the dog flu if provided with the proper care and medication. However, if pet owners suspect their dog has canine influenza, they must take them straight to the vet. Dog owners should always put their dog’s health first.

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