2011-12-09 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

Protecting Dogs From Canine Influenza
Commentary By Dr. Jay Rogoff & Michael Hess, DMV

With more dogs than ever traveling and spending time in social settings, from parks designed just for them to doggy day care centers and health spas, it is important for owners to understand the facts about the canine influenza virus.

Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory flu virus (H3N8) that affects all unvaccinated dogs. This is a completely new disease for dogs. Prior to 2004 the virus was only present in horses, but since then has established itself in the canine population. This is a very rare event, occurring for the first time in racing greyhounds at a track in Florida. From there it spread to other dog tracks, animal shelters and boarding kennels in 39 states. It is particularly prevalent in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Many nearby areas have been seeing large numbers of cases. The cases have been confirmed with blood tests sent to Cornell University to distinguish true CIV cases from other forms of kennel cough such as bordetella and parainfluenza. There is no evidence that the virus can affect humans.

Canine influenza is an acute respiratory disease that causes a harsh, moist cough. Most dogs exhibit the mild form that mimics kennel cough. Owners most often call the hospital to report that they think “something is stuck in the dog’s throat.” The dogs proceed to cough for about 2-3 weeks, getting little rest for themselves or their owners as they cough all night long.

Thankfully these patients continue to eat normally. The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection. As with all viral diseases, the treatment is basically supportive. However, in the severe form of CIV there is a fever present and pneumonia. These dogs need to be hospitalized immediately. Occasionally some severely affected patients will die from the pneumonia.

Since this is a newly emerging disease all dogs are susceptible to infection. The coughing begins about 4-5 days after exposure but virus shedding begins earlier. This means that an infected dog can easily spread the disease to an entire kennel before the loud coughing begins. Research shows that 20 percent of cases never really exhibit coughing signs at all. These individuals spread the virus to other dogs because they are not isolated from the general canine population.

Canine influenza is considered the most contagious viral disease of dogs. The good news is that the virus is easily destroyed with disinfectants. The virus will survive for only two days at the most in the environment and on clothing. Thorough cleaning of the environment and isolation protocols are essential but the use of the vaccine is the means to really control an outbreak.

The first CIV vaccine was developed and approved in 2009. It employs a killed virus. The vaccine is given by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection in two doses, two to four weeks apart. This is considered a “lifestyle” vaccine and is recommended for dogs at risk of exposure. This means dogs that go to the groomer, spend time at the dog park, board at kennel facilities, have procedures at a veterinary hospital or visit a doggy daycare. Even coming nose-to-nose with another dog out on a neighborhood walk can potentially infect your dog. The vaccine is safe and effective. If you have a question as to the appropriateness of the vaccine for your dog please call the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways at 718-474-0500 or stop by 114-10 Beach Channel Drive and any of the doctors will be happy to discuss it with you.

Perhaps this year it makes sense to get a flu shot for yourself and another for your canine friend!

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