Q: What is canine influenza?
A: Canine influenza (CI), or dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs that is caused by an influenza A virus. In the U.S., canine influenza has been caused by two influenza strains. The first strain reported in the United States, beginning in 2004, was an H3N8 influenza A virus. This strain is closely related to the virus that causes equine influenza, and it is thought that the equine influenza virus mutated to produce the canine strain. In 2015, an outbreak that started in Chicago was caused by a separate canine influenza virus, H3N2. The strain causing the 2015 outbreak was almost genetically identical to an H3N2 strain previously reported only in Asia – specifically, Korea, China and Thailand. In Asia. This H3N2 strain is believed to have resulted from the direct transfer of an avian influenza virus – possibly from among viruses circulating in live bird markets – to dogs. Since March 2015, thousands of dogs have been confirmed positive for H3N2 canine influenza across the U.S.
Two clinical syndromes have been seen in dogs infected with the canine influenza virus—a mild form of the disease and a more severe form that is accompanied by pneumonia.
• Mild form — Dogs suffering with the mild form of canine influenza develop a soft, moist cough that persists for 10 to 30 days. They may also be lethargic and have reduced appetite and a fever. Sneezing and discharge from the eyes and/or nose may also be observed. Some dogs have a dry cough similar to the traditional “kennel cough” caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica/parainfluenza virus complex. Dogs with the mild form of influenza may also have a thick nasal discharge, which is usually caused by a secondary bacterial infection.
• Severe form — Dogs with the severe form of canine influenza develop high fevers (104ºF to 106ºF) and have clinical signs of pneumonia, such as increased respiratory rates and effort. Pneumonia may be due to a secondary bacterial infection.
Cats infected with H3N2 canine influenza show signs of upper respiratory illness, such as runny nose, congestion, malaise, lip smacking, and excessive salivation.
Q: Are all dogs at risk of getting canine influenza?
A: Because this is still an emerging disease and dogs in the U.S. have not been exposed to it before, almost all dogs, regardless of breed or age, lack immunity to it and are susceptible to infection if exposed to the active virus. Virtually all dogs exposed to the virus become infected, and nearly 80% show clinical signs of disease, though most exhibit the mild form described above.
However, the risk of any dog being exposed to the canine influenza virus depends on that dog’s lifestyle. Dogs that are frequently or regularly exposed to other dogs – for example at boarding or day care facilities, dog parks, grooming salons, or social events with other dogs present – are at greater risk of coming into contact with the virus. Also, as with other infectious diseases, extra precautions may be needed with puppies, elderly or pregnant dogs, and dogs that are immunocompromised. Dog owners should talk with their own veterinarian to assess their dog’s risk.
Q: Do dogs die from canine influenza?
A: Fatal cases of pneumonia resulting from infection with canine influenza virus have been reported in dogs, but the fatality rate is low (less than 10%). Most dogs recover in 2-3 weeks.
Q: How widespread is the disease?
A: The first recognized outbreak of canine influenza in the world is believed to have occurred in racing greyhounds in January 2004 at a track in Florida. From June to August of 2004, outbreaks of respiratory disease were reported at 14 tracks in 6 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Texas, and West Virginia). Between January and May of 2005, outbreaks occurred at 20 tracks in 11 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). The canine influenza virus has been reported in at least 40 states and Washington, DC.
The H3N2 strain of canine influenza virus had been reported in Korea, China and Thailand, but had not been detected outside of those countries until 2015. In April 2015, an outbreak that started in Chicago was determined to be caused by an H3N2 strain that was genetically almost identical to the one one in Asia. Since May 2015, thousands of dogs have been confirmed positive for H3N2 canine influenza across the U.S.
Q: Is there a vaccine?
A: Yes, viral disease is usually best prevented through vaccination. A vaccine against H3N8 canine influenza has been available since 2009, and H3N2 vaccines were conditionally approved in late 2015. The canine Influenza vaccine currently given is a combination of both strains of the virus. It is considered a “lifestyle” vaccine, which means that the decision to vaccinate a dog against CIV is based on the risk of exposure. A veterinarian should determine whether vaccination is needed based on related risks and benefits, and should administer the Canine Influenza combo vaccine at least 4 weeks prior to planned visits to dog activity and care facilities (e.g., kennels, veterinary clinics, dog day care centers, training facilities, dog parks). The second booster vaccination is given 2-3 weeks after the initial vaccination. This differs from “core” vaccines – such as distemper, parvo and rabies – that are required for all dogs, regardless of lifestyle.
Q: How is a dog with canine influenza treated?
A: As with any disease caused by a virus, treatment is largely supportive. Good animal care practices and nutrition assist dogs in mounting an effective immune response.
Dogs with canine influenza should be isolated to prevent transmission of the virus to other dogs or, in the case of H3N2, cats.
The course of treatment depends on the pet’s condition, including the presence or absence of a secondary bacterial infection, pneumonia, dehydration, or other medical issues (e.g., pregnancy, pre-existing respiratory disease, compromised immune system, etc.). The veterinarian might prescribe medications, such as an antibiotic (to fight secondary infections) and/or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (to reduce fever, swelling and pain). Dehydrated pets may need fluid therapy to restore and maintain hydration. Other medications, or even hospitalization, may also be necessary for more severe cases.
Q: Is canine influenza virus transmissible from dogs to humans?
A: To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza virus from dogs to people.
Q: Is canine influenza virus transmissible from dogs to cats, horses or other animal species?
A: At this time, there is no evidence of transmission of H3N8 canine influenza from dogs to horses, ferrets, or other animal species. The H3N2 strain, however, has been reported in Asia to infect cats, and there’s also some evidence that guinea pigs and ferrets can become infected. In early 2016, cats in an Indiana shelter were infected with H3N2 canine influenza (spread to them from infected dogs) and investigators found evidence that cat-to-cat transmission is possible.
Q: Do I need to be concerned about putting my dog in day care or boarding it at a kennel?
A: If your dog is ill, you should immediately notify your veterinarian and the day care or kennel. You will likely need to make other arrangements for your dog. You wouldn’t want your healthy dog exposed to a contagious dog, just as others wouldn’t want their healthy dogs exposed to your contagious dog.
Dog owners should be aware that any situation that brings dogs together increases the risk of spread of communicable illnesses. Good infection control practices can reduce that risk, so dog owners involved in shows, sports, or other activities with their dogs or who board their dogs at kennels should ask whether respiratory disease has been a problem there, and whether the facility has a plan for isolating dogs that develop respiratory disease and for notifying owners if their dogs have been exposed to dogs with respiratory disease.
As long as good infection control practices are in place, pet owners should not be overly concerned about putting dogs in training facilities, dog parks, kennels, or other areas frequented by dogs.
Q: My dog has a cough…what should I do?
A: Consult your veterinarian. Coughing can be caused by many different medical problems, and your veterinarian can examine and evaluate your dog and recommend an appropriate course of treatment. If canine influenza is suspected, treatment will usually focus on maximizing the ability of your dog’s immune system to combat the virus. A typical approach might include administration of fluids if your dog is becoming dehydrated and prescribing an antimicrobial if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected.
Canine influenza virus can be spread via direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs (via barking, coughing or sneezing), and by contact with contaminated inanimate objects. Therefore, dog owners whose dogs are coughing or exhibiting other signs of respiratory disease should not participate in activities or bring their dogs to facilities where other dogs can be exposed to them. Clothing (including shoes), equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease to prevent transmission of infection to susceptible dogs. Clothing can be adequately cleaned by using a detergent at normal laundry temperatures.