The rash of canine influenza cases we saw last winter may seem like a distant memory with summer here. But keep in mind, canine influenza doesn’t rest. There are peaks and valleys, but emergency veterinarians know the virus is a year-round problem, says Dr. Christine Wong, DVM, DACVECC at SAGE Campbell.
Summer is a good time to think about canine influenza because it’s vacation season. Many people are checking their pets into boarding facilities or leaving them with pet sitters who may have dogs of their own. In these communal environments, dogs can be exposed to bacteria and viruses. These foreign pathogens can include canine influenza, which can spread quickly when dogs are in close quarters.
Here are some tips for protecting your pet from canine influenza:
- Familiarize yourself with how the virus works. Canine influenza, also known as H3N8, is spread through respiratory secretions from coughing, barking and sneezing. Human hands, clothing, dog toys, food and water bowls, even furniture can be potential carriers of the virus. According to the AVMA, the virus remains viable on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours, though it appears to be vulnerable to disinfectants and hand washing. The virus has an incubation period of 1 to 5 days. In most cases, dogs will show clinical signs such as dry cough, lethargy, and lack of appetite about 2 to 3 days after exposure. The virus may take 5 to 7 days to run its course, but a cough may persist for up to a month.
- Get your dog vaccinated for canine influenza. The vaccine does not provide “sterile immunity,” which means it will not prevent infection and symptoms. But it reduces the clinical signs in dogs who become infected, which can help control the spread of the disease.
- Carefully vet boarding facilities. Make sure the boarding facility requires dogs to be vaccinated for canine influenza, in addition to other contagious diseases.
- Prepare for emergencies. Ensure the boarding facility has the means to transport your pet to your primary veterinarian in the event of canine influenza, or any other health problem. Provide the boarding facility with everything they need to navigate an emergency, including a list of health issues, medications, and any pre-authorizations. Our post “Give Your Pet Sitter Everything They Need in the Event of an Emergency” provides more information and links.
Most dogs will recover from canine influenza with rest, fluids and TLC. However, canine influenza has been known to exacerbate other health issues. In early 2018, Dr. Wong treated a dog who had canine influenza and secondary pneumonia that resulted in a pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Veterinarians were puzzled by the severe outcome of a virus that is generally not life-threatening. Initially, they placed the dog on a Pleur-evac unit, a machine that drains air and fluid from the pleural space (the space between the chest wall and lungs) while the hole in the lung naturally heals. When that didn’t work, they tried a blood patch, which consists of pulling blood from the dog’s body and applying it to the lung to seal the hole. The blood patch also failed. Then, a CT scan revealed that the dog had bullae—these are air pockets within the lung tissue that had likely ruptured as a result of the canine influenza and secondary pneumonia. Surgeons removed several lung lobes that had collapsed and he was eventually able to go home.
This is an extreme case, but it illustrates how a relatively minor infection can become a larger problem. Canine influenza and other infectious diseases are not 100% preventable—all we can do is ask good questions to ensure our pets are safe in communal environments and be prepared for any emergencies that occur when we are away.