News & Info

Canine Influenza: Should you be worried?

Canine influenza virus was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2005.  Since that time it has been identified in numerous parts of the country, and is most commonly seen in dogs that are housed in large groups – shelters, boarding facilities, daycares, etc.  Just like the flu in humans, it is pretty easy to spread canine flu from one infected dog to another.  It can be spread via aerosol (droplets from coughing or sneezing), direct contact, or through contaminated surfaces.  Luckily, the virus is not very hardy, and can easily be killed with bleach and other common disinfectants.  Even without disinfectants it can only survive for about one week outside the body. 

Many cases of canine flu are mild, and these dogs generally recover with no treatment other than rest and some tender loving care.  However, in more serious cases there can be secondary bacterial infections causing pneumonia.  These dogs can be very sick and require hospitalization with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and sometimes oxygen therapy.  In rare cases the disease can be fatal.  Generally, it is not recommended to use human antiviral drugs (like Tamiflu) in these dogs that need hospitalization – by the time they are sick enough to see the vet it is too late for the drug to work.     

Canine flu can be diagnosed with virus isolation tests, or antibody tests.  If your veterinarian suspects canine flu he or she may want to perform these diagnostic tests for a few reasons; first, to help ensure that the patient is being treated appropriately; and second, to ensure that proper steps are taken to help prevent the spread to other dogs.  Since the virus is spread so easily, if a dog is diagnosed with the disease it is very important that strict measures are taken to prevent spread.  This includes keeping your pet home from any training classes, boarding facilities, dog parks, etc. for at least 1 week after diagnosis.  It is also important to keep other dogs in the house separated, and to wash all bedding, toys, food dishes, and clothing that comes in contact with the sick dog.  Hand washing is extremely important as well!

There have been NO confirmed cases of transmission of canine flu from dogs to humans.  It is considered unlikely that it could happen, but flu viruses are known to mutate.  If a dog is diagnosed with canine flu and any human in the household has a respiratory illness they should consult with their physician, making sure to let the doctor know that a dog in the house has canine influenza. 

There has been a recent outbreak of canine flu in the upper Midwestern United States.  Luckily, we have not seen any recent cases here, but it is always wise to take precautions.  Here at Limerick Veterinary Hospital, we recommend the canine flu vaccine for all dogs at high risk of flu transmission, including requiring it for any dogs that use our Happy Tails services.  Although no vaccine is 100% effective keeping dogs up to date with their canine flu vaccine may help prevent them from becoming infected if exposed, or decrease the severity of the disease if they do become infected. 

If you are concerned that your dog may have been exposed to canine flu, or may be showing signs of the disease, please call us so we can help determine the next steps for you to take.  That may be continuing with TLC at home, or making an appointment to see us.  Together we can help keep your precious pets safe!