The first documented cases of the canine flu that has been has been steadily spreading across the country were detected in 2004. It began with an outbreak of a respiratory disease in Greyhounds at racing kennels in Florida. Researchers believe the virus responsible for canine flu evolved from an equine flu virus, which, in a rare occurrence, jumped from one species to another. The first case of canine flu in pet dogs... dogs other than racing greyhounds... was documented in April or May 2005.
Canine flu is highly contagious. Because this is a new strain of virus, all dogs are susceptible. Nearly 100% of dogs who are exposed to the virus will become infected. About 80% of infected dogs will develop mild flu symptoms within 2 to 5 days of exposure. Some infected dogs will have no symptoms, but will remain contagious for 7 to 10 days. It can be much more severe in young puppies, older dogs and dogs with weakened immune systems.
According to current reports, the virus has been found in dogs in at least 15 states and in Washington, DC. Three states, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, have the highest number of documented cases. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine to prevent canine flu, but there is none available now.
Just as cold and flu viruses in humans are spread from person to person wherever people gather, the canine flu can spread from dog to dog in boarding kennels, in animal shelters, at dog shows, in dog parks and wherever dogs congregate. A dog does not need to have direct physical contact with an infected dog to get the virus. It's present in respiratory secretions and can be airborne.
Symptoms Statistics show that in otherwise healthy dogs, it's usually a fairly mild disease. Most dogs will have typical cold symptoms... a cough, a runny nose, and a low fever. A high fever, loss of energy, loss of appetite, and a more persistent cough are signs of a secondary bacterial infection, or pneumonia. If treated promptly for secondary infections, dogs can recover quickly.
Early symptoms can be mistaken for "kennel cough". Many dogs are already immunized against Bordetella, commonly known as kennel cough. Bordetella vaccine is given yearly by many veterinarians and most boarding kennels require proof of Bordetella vaccination before accepting a dog. Although dogs that are boarded or have contact with other dogs should be vaccinated against it, Bordetella is a bacterial illness, and the vaccine provides no protection against the virus that causes canine flu. With kennel cough there is a persistent, dry, hacking cough. With canine flu, early symptoms include a moist cough.
How serious is Canine Flu? Most dogs recover completely in 2 to 3 weeks. Frail, aging dogs, dogs with weakened immune systems due to other illness, and puppies younger than 4 months old... because of their immature immune systems, have a greater risk for becoming seriously ill with secondary bacterial infections or pneumonia. Some of these cases will be fatal.
The mortality rate is estimated to be around 5 percent, but there are no exact figures on how many dogs have died from it. The most severe cases of canine flu and most flu related deaths have been in racing Greyhounds. Living in close conditions in racetrack kennels and the stress to their respiratory system from running, no doubt increased the severity of the disease in those Greyhounds.
Diagnosis and Treatment- A sudden cough does not mean a dog has canine flu, but a dog that has a cough should always be seen by a veterinarian. A cough can be a symptom of heartworm infection, heart disease, kennel cough, or other illness. If your dog has recently been anywhere in the close proximity of other dogs, tell your vet. When a cough is accompanied by mild cold or flu symptoms, a cough suppressant may be prescribed. Dogs with symptoms of a mild infection will be treated with antibiotics to prevent a more severe bacterial infection. Don't use over-the-counter medicines unless recommended by your veterinarian.
Hospitalization may be necessary if there is a high fever and symptoms that must be treated with IV fluids and antibiotics. Dogs with respiratory symptoms and a high fever should be tested to determine if they have the canine flu virus.
Presence of the virus can be only confirmed through blood tests, sent to a testing facility. Testing is encouraged to follow the spread of this flu.
Precautions & Prevention - How concerned should you be about your dog getting the flu? Since this disease has been spreading and since we all want our dogs to remain healthy, be vigilant and be cautious, but don't panic. If you have a healthy dog and there are no news reports of a canine flu outbreak in your area, you don't need to change your travel plans to avoid taking your dog to a reputable boarding kennel that you've dealt with and have been satisfied with in the past. Don't stop taking your dog to the dog park, or to activities like group training classes or competitive events.
While there, don't let your dog share a water dish, food dish or toys with other dogs. You should probably leave if you notice a dog there with a cough or other respiratory symptoms. Take extra precautions with a new puppy or if your dog is very old or has other high risk factors. Regardless of your dog's age or overall health, call your veterinarian if your dog develops a cough or any sign of a respiratory problem.
There is some concern among Veterinarians that canine flu could spread faster and farther during the approaching holiday season. Many holiday travelers will board their dogs in kennels. In many families, Thanksgiving and Christmas travel also includes the family dog. In either case, there's a greater than usual potential for the virus to spread.