Yes! Dogs can become infected with the influenza virus! This has been a hot topic in the Austin area within the past couple of months, so you may have already heard about these infections on the news or in your community. Here we’ll discuss basic information about the influenza virus, signs of disease, and what you can do to protect your dog.
Talk nerdy to me: what is the canine influenza virus?
The canine influenza virus is a Type A influenza virus. Influenza viruses are known to be super sneaky, able to rapidly mutate into new strains. There are currently two strains of the canine influenza virus that have been identified in the United States (H3N8 and H3N2). The H3N8 strain originated in horses but then jumped to canines, causing an outbreak in racing Greyhounds in 2004. The H3N2 strain was first identified in dogs in Asia, and possibly originated from birds. This strain led to an outbreak of respiratory illness in dogs within the Chicago area in 2015, and most recently in 2017, this strain has been identified in the southern United States (including Texas!)
The canine influenza virus replicates within cells of the respiratory tract, leading to inflammation of the airways. This inflammation will lead to clinical signs, and the damage to the lining of the respiratory tract can also predispose dogs to developing secondary bacterial infections including pneumonia.
How would my dog get influenza?
The virus is spread through the respiratory secretions expelled with coughing, barking, sneezing, and snotting. It can live on surfaces like kennels, bowls, and clothing for up to 48 hours, but can be killed by common disinfectants. Dogs in close contact with an infected dog, such as in boarding or grooming facilities, are at an increased risk for becoming sick. Canine influenza is extremely contagious, with almost all exposed dogs becoming infected, and development of clinical signs in over 80% of infected dogs. Infected dogs that are asymptomatic can still shed the virus and spread the infection to others.
What signs should I watch for?
Most dogs infected with canine influenza will show mild to moderate signs of disease, including coughing, sneezing, nasal or ocular discharge, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. These signs can be very similar to those of Bordetella or other agents of the Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease complex (“kennel cough”).
Some dogs have become severely affected, developing a high fever, respiratory distress, and pneumonia. Just like with humans, the severe form is more prevalent in young, old, and immunocompromised dogs. The majority of dogs recover from the infection within 1-3 weeks, but death has been reported.
How can I protect my dog from influenza?
There are vaccines available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the canine influenza virus. Similar to the human flu vaccine, this does not completely prevent all dogs from becoming infected, but it can help to minimize the severity and duration of clinical signs.
When deciding whether vaccination is necessary for your dog, it is important to think about your dog’s risk level. I am currently recommending vaccination in dogs that are frequently exposed to other dogs – including dog shows (including agility, hunting, trials, etc), doggy daycare, boarding facilities, grooming facilities, or dog parks. If your dog gets vaccinated for Bordetella, it would likely be appropriate to vaccinate for influenza as well. If your dog prefers to stay home, the risk may be minimal and you might choose to sit this one out.
As with any elective vaccine, there is no “one size fits all” approach. We are happy to discuss your pet’s individual risk level, and together can make the best choice for your pup.
We DO have the bivalent vaccine (containing both strains) available! Contact us to schedule an appointment!