Canine Influenza Q&A

Canine influenza is a viral infection that can cause a whole range of symptoms in your dog, from moist cough to severe pneumonia. So what do dog owners need to know about prevention, testing and treatment of canine influenza? 

I chatted with Dr. Cynthia M. Otto, Associate Professor of Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, to learn more about this viral infection…

Canine Influenza Q&A:

JK: What exactly is canine influenza?

CO: Canine influenza is a viral infection, it is similar in nature to the human influenza, but to date has only been reported to affect dogs. It did originate for an equine (horse) form of influenza. The signs can vary in severity from a cough and fever to severe pneumonia. Most dogs develop a persistent moist cough that does not respond well to common treatment with antibiotics or cough suppressants.

JK: Why is it important to treat canine influenza?

CO: Treatment of canine influenza is symptomatic, however if there are secondary infections or the development of pneumonia, more intensive treatment may be necessary. Maintaining good hydration and nutrition will help the dog’s immune system combat the virus. Similar to the situation with human influenza, there are some cases of canine influenza in which dogs infected have died, however most dogs show less severe disease and have signs similar to humans with influenza (cough, fever, runny nose). Influenza is also highly contagious, therefore dogs that are affected should not be in contact with other dogs.

JK: How do infected dogs transmit the virus?

CO: Canine influenza is transmitted by respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing, sharing water bowls, shared toys etc, on people’s hands or clothing). The virus can survive in the environment for up to 48 hours.

JK: So how do you test for canine influenza? 

CO: There are two major ways to test for canine influenza. The first is to attempt to detect the virus itself (by culture or PCR). This can be difficult because the virus is typically present only during the early stages of illness. The most common way to confirm the diagnosis is to measure the antibody response. Early in the disease the antibody response should be low and then following the disease (typically by 2 weeks) the immune system should have responded and the antibody response will dramatically increase. We are currently screening healthy dogs to determine if they have been exposed or have immunity to influenza so we can determine how common exposure is in a group of dogs that tends to gather frequently and share toys and a close space during flyball competitions. The cost for the tests will vary depending on the test performed. Our screening is part of a research study and so there is no charge to the dog owner for the testing.

JK: Can canine influenza be prevented?

CO: Influenza seems to be most common in animal shelters, so if someone is adopting a dog from a shelter, it would be a good idea to keep them separate from other dogs for 14 days. The virus is easily killed by normal handwashing and disinfectant procedures so these will help minimize spread between dogs if they can be physically separated. There is also an influenza vaccine that is reported to decrease the severity of the signs.

Talk to your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog has canine influenza and check out other Nat Geo Channel DOGS blog posts to learn more ways to keep your pooch healthy. You can also head to the dog forums to chat with other canine owners!