The Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) is a highly contagious virus caused by the H3N8 virus. It was first reported in 2004 among racing greyhounds in Florida. Since then, the virus has made its way throughout the United States, including New Jersey, and has stimulated great concern among the veterinary community and our clients. Considering the recent news broadcasts regarding CIV, we felt it relevant to share with you the facts about canine influenza and how to best protect your pets.
Much like the common cold, canine influenza is transmitted via airborne respiratory secretions and any objects contaminated by these secretions. The airborne virus infects the nasal passages and lower airways causing inflammation to the nose (rhinitis), trachea (tracheitis), and bronchi (bronchitis). The virus then creates an environment susceptible to secondary bacterial invasion. This leads to the common clinical signs of cough and nasal discharge, and in severe cases, pneumonia.
Patients most at risk of contracting the disease are those who are kept in close confinement with other dogs (ie: kennels, day cares, grooming facilities). The incubation period is generally 2 to 4 days, during which time the affected dog is asymptomatic. Unfortunately, it is also during this period that the affected dog is most contagious. By the time the pet is showing clinical signs, he/she may have already exposed other dogs to the disease. Pets should be considered “contagious” for at least 14 days, and quarantined from other dogs during that period. The virus remains viable in the environment for 2 days, so it is important to bleach all contaminated items and wash hands and exposed clothing thoroughly.
The primary sign of canine influenza is a cough that lasts about 2 to 3 weeks. Usually the cough is dry, however sometimes it is moist and accompanied by nasal discharge. A smaller percentage of patients will become severely affected and have high fevers and pneumonia. 80% of exposed pets will become clinical, and 1-5% of patients will die from this
We strongly urge you to contact your veterinarian if your pet shows any signs listed above. At that time, your pet can be tested for influenza by a simple blood test or nasal swab. If your pet is showing more severe signs (difficulties breathing, fever, loss of appetite) X-rays along with blood work may be indicated. Stable patients with mild to moderate signs are generally treated with antibiotics as outpatients; however those with more severe signs may be hospitalized for intravenous fluid and antibiotic therapy. A small percentage of patients may require oxygen and critical care monitoring.
As your veterinarians we want to do everything we can to prevent your pet from contracting this very contagious disease. In May 2009 the canine influenza vaccine became approved. We recommend this vaccine to those patients who have a high chance of exposure to this virus, and currently require it for any patients planning to board. Please feel free to discuss the vaccine with your veterinarian to determine if your pet should be vaccinated. Much like other vaccines, the canine influenza vaccine may not prevent infection, but reduces the severity of clinical signs. A temporary vaccine is initially given, followed by a booster vaccine 2 to 3 weeks later. We strongly urge your pets to be fully vaccinated before boarding. As discussed above, pets are most contagious before showing clinical signs, so a pet may be contaminated with influenza while boarding without anyone knowing.