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What is Canine Flu and What You Can Do

We're all familiar with how unpleasant the flu can be. But how does the flu affect our dogs? Canine influenza has been affecting dogs throughout the U.S. with increasing frequency in the last two to three years. It is highly contagious, and some cases can be fatal. While it is was first identified in racing greyhounds in 2004, all breeds are equally susceptible to the disease. Being that it is a newly discovered disease and that dogs have no natural immunity against it, the statistics are far from encouraging. Nearly all of the dogs who come into contact with the disease become infected and about 80% develop clinical signs of the virus. There are two syndromes of canine flu: a milder one, and a more severe case. The milder syndrome is what most dogs contract. For those dogs that develop the severe, pneumonia syndrome, the fatality rate is estimated to be as high as 5%.

How is Canine Flu Spread?

The canine flu can be spread by airborne means (sneezing, coughing, etc.), coming into contact with contaminated objects, as well as coming into contact with people who have been near an infected dog. Kennel workers have been reported to have transferred the disease to dogs outside of their workplace.

What Are the Symptoms?

Dogs will develop symptoms about 2-5 days from when they were first infected. About 20% of infected dogs will not show signs of the flu and become unknown spreaders of the disease. A persistent cough is a very common symptom of the canine flu. This can make it difficult to tell whether your dog has the flu or kennel cough. Coughing can last up to three weeks with the canine flu, despite the use of antibiotics or cough medication. Below are some of the most common symptoms of canine influenza:

  • Bad cough, hacking, gagging
  • Runny nose; thick discharge
  • Depression, low-energy
  • Severe cases develop a high fever (104-106 °F) with increased respiratory rates and other signs of pneumonia

How to Prevent Canine Flu

There is no vaccine available yet for dogs with the influenza virus infection, so controlling your pet's environment and behavior are the only means of prevention. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Avoid allowing your dog to share toys or dishes with dogs outside of your household.
  2. Take extra precautions in boarding facilities, dog shows, classes, or parks.
  3. Use disinfectants and 10% bleach to kill the virus on inanimate objects. Do this often wherever there are large groups of dogs.

In addition, if your dog has any persistent coughing or gagging then you should take him to your veterinarian immediately to get a proper diagnosis. There are some tests your dog can take to detect the virus. Blood samples and nasal swabs are the most common. As with any disease, early detection is crucial. Nasal swabs must be taken within about 72 hours after your dog has developed symptoms. Most treatments for the flu simply entail that you keep your dog well hydrated and ensure that he gets plenty of rest. Additionally, if the flu is accompanied by an infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics as well.