Q: I heard about the canine influenza occurring in Bergen County recently. How concerned about my dog’s exposure do I need to be?
A: While there is no reason to overreact to this disease, prevention by vaccination is the most prudent way to protect your dog from the canine influenza virus (CIV). Please read the summary article below for more information.
What You Should Know About Canine Influenza:
The Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) or Canine Flu is a virus in dogs which causes an acute respiratory infection. It has been identified in shelters, humane societies, boarding facilities and veterinary clinics across the country. This highly contagious virus is a recognized respiratory pathogen in dogs and causes a clinical syndrome that mimics “kennel cough”. Since New Jersey is one of the many states in which outbreaks of the CIV have occurred, more and more kennels, groomers and veterinary hospitals are requiring vaccination against CIV in any pets that are admitted to their facilities. CIV is a highly contagious virus that will infect virtually every dog that is exposed to it. About eighty percent of dogs infected will show clinical signs which include fever, malaise and prolonged cough. Of those showing clinical signs some patients will develop a severe form of the disease which often involves a secondary pneumonia manifested by a thick yellow-green nasal discharge and high fever. These cases frequently require extended and expensive hospitalization stays in strict isolation with intravenous fluid, antibiotic, and respiratory therapy. In spite of the best treatment regimens it is estimated based on past experience that three to eight percent of these patients may die of the disease and its complications.
Since the virus is carried in respiratory secretions, dogs are potentially exposed to the virus in any place where dogs are in close contact with each other such as boarding kennels, groomers, canine daycare facilities, dog shows, dog runs and parks. The disease may also be spread by contact with contaminated items such as dog toys, blankets, clothes, and even hands. If your dog falls into one of these exposure categories, vaccination is highly recommended.
Canine flu presents itself in two forms – a mild self-limiting form and a severe pneumonic form. Dogs with the mild form have a cough that will last for 2-4 weeks often accompanied by a mucoid nasal discharge. The severe form quickly turns into pneumonia with a high fever, lethargy and lack of appetite.
The incubation period is 2 to 5 days after which clinical signs appear. Infected dogs may shed virus for 7 to 10 days from the initial day of clinical signs. Nearly 20% of infected dogs will not display clinical signs and become silent shedders and spreaders of the infection.
The infection is diagnosed by a blood test. If your dog shows signs of coughing and/or nasal discharge you should contact your veterinarian who can perform the blood test to rule out canine influenza. If your dog should be positive on the test, treatment generally consists of supportive care with good nutrition and antibiotics. The severe form requires hospitalization for intravenous fluids, antibiotics and respiratory therapy.
Although most dogs recover uneventfully from the canine flu, the severe form with pneumonia can lead to death. As with most infectious diseases the very young and the very old are at greatest risk.
To date, there is no evidence that the canine flu virus can be transmitted from dogs to humans.
A vaccine is available
A safe and effective vaccine is available from Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health. Since a vaccine is available, one can understand that the facilities mentioned above would require it to be given in an attempt to prevent an outbreak which would require closing down the facility for extensive decontamination procedures. In addition, by requiring the vaccines to be given to all dogs coming to a facility housing multiple dogs, these vaccinated dogs are far less likely to contract CIV and if they should become infected will have a shorter duration and less severe form of the illness. We believe, as time goes by, that more and more facilities will require the vaccinations for admission in the hope that CIV will not become a problem in a given facility.
The vaccine has been shown to have virtually no side effects and is highly effective in either preventing infection or lessening the clinical signs and duration of infection and virus shedding. Dogs over six weeks of age are protected by getting two injections of vaccine given two to four weeks apart.