There’s currently a canine influenza outbreak on the West Coast, and, like last year, it’s expected to race like wildfire across the country. Since canine influenza is a fairly new disease, many pet owners are unsure what to do. As with all influenza viruses, strains mutate easily and cross from species to species—an earlier strain (H3N8) had risen from an equine flu strain, and the current avian flu-derived strain (H3N2) can also infect cats. Fortunately, there has been no evidence that either strain can infect humans.  

How is canine influenza spread?

Canine influenza is highly contagious and spreads rapidly in kennel, grooming, boarding, or shelter situations. The virus is transmitted through aerosols or droplets containing respiratory secretions from barking, coughing, or sneezing. Close quarters and inadequate disinfection techniques encourage transmission, as the virus can travel on people or objects that have come into contact with an infected pet. Kennels, food and water dishes, leashes, and bedding can indirectly spread canine influenza, as can people wearing infected shoes or clothing. 

You should disinfect surfaces and yourself after coming into contact with a suspicious pet who may be carrying the influenza virus, which can survive up to 48 hours on surfaces, 24 hours on clothing, and 12 hours on hands. Disinfection is critical in halting the spread of disease. After exposure to an infected pet, your dog will often show respiratory signs in two to three days.

What are the signs of canine influenza?

Canine influenza infects almost every exposed dog, with approximately 80% developing signs of disease. The other 20% of infected dogs who do not exhibit signs can still spread the virus. Respiratory signs are common with influenza infections, and canine influenza is often confused with other diseases that are part of the canine infectious respiratory disease complex, such as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, distemper, parainfluenza, herpesvirus, and canine adenovirus 2. If your pet is suffering from canine influenza, she will likely display these respiratory issues:

  • Soft, moist cough or dry cough lasting for 10 to 21 days, despite cough suppressants and antibiotics
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

As dogs progress past the mild stage, they may develop pneumonia and display a high-grade fever and increased breathing rate and effort. Although most dogs recover from the more serious stage of canine influenza, some die from the H3N2 strain. Canine influenza is more likely than other respiratory infections to turn into pneumonia, and is especially risky for flat-faced breeds, puppies, and senior pets. 

How is canine influenza diagnosed and treated?

Pets with a suspicious cough or other respiratory signs indicative of canine influenza are highly contagious and should be treated as such until a diagnosis is made. We ask that you call our office when you arrive for your pet’s appointment to ensure we escort you directly to an exam room to limit contamination. 

Canine influenza can easily be confused with other respiratory diseases, so a definitive diagnosis cannot be based on clinical signs alone. If we suspect your dog has canine influenza, we will collect samples to send to a diagnostic laboratory for confirmation. 

Once we’ve reached a canine influenza diagnosis, treatment for your pet is mostly supportive care, as with most viral diseases. Most dogs recover in two to three weeks with proper nutrition and care. Additional support may be necessary if your dog develops a secondary bacterial infection, pneumonia, or dehydration. Isolate your pet and other dogs in your household for four weeks to prevent the spread of infection. 

How can I prevent my dog from getting canine influenza?

Since canine influenza is a highly contagious disease, practice good hygiene and avoid areas where outbreaks are known. In addition to washing your hands and disinfecting cages, dishes, and bedding that have come into contact with infected pets, stay away from dog parks, boarding facilities, grooming parlors, and animal shelters where disease has been found. You can also help protect your pet with vaccinations for both strains of canine influenza, which may reduce your pet’s risk of disease but is not a foolproof guarantee. However, although vaccination may not completely prevent illness, it can reduce the infection severity and duration.

Has your furry friend been hacking enough to produce a doggy hairball? Or, have you noticed watery eyes and a runny nose? At the first sign of a respiratory illness, give us a call to help your pet squelch her sniffles.