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A Flu for All Seasons
By Kathleen Hefner, DVM

Most of us think of winter as “flu season”. While this may be true for most outbreaks of human flu, canine influenza is a health threat for our dogs in all seasons, but especially in the summer. In fact, there have been reports of canine viral influenza (CIV) outbreaks in kennels, veterinary hospitals and shelters for the last 5 summers in the tri-state area. This is likely attributed to the increased travel and social activity engaged in during the warmer months. The state health departments have alerted veterinarians and operators of animal facilities, including kennels, pet shops, animal shelters and pounds to be on the lookout for the disease and to be prepared to respond in the event of an outbreak.

Canine influenza (CIV) is a newly emerging infectious disease caused by a “flu” virus resulting in a respiratory illness. While CIV has only been known to affect dogs, it is highly contagious. The virus was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida in March 2003 and since that time has spread to 30 states. Due to the lack of natural immunity, virtually every dog exposed to the virus will become infected. Of these, 80 % will show signs of illness. A single infected dog can spread the virus throughout a facility and infect many other dogs. Much like the human flu, CIV is readily spread though direct contact between dogs, through the air via coughs and sneezes, and contaminated surfaces such as hands, clothing and other surfaces.

The most common sign of CIV is a persistent cough. Its presentation often mimics “kennel cough”, a respiratory infection caused by other viruses and bacteria. It is often misdiagnosed especially in less severe cases. Most dogs sick with CIV will present with mild symptoms, including a low-grade fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite and a cough which can last up to a month. In some dogs, approximately 20 %, will have severe illness, including a high fever (104 F to 106 F) and a life-threatening pneumonia. Approximately 5 % of the dogs die due to complications of the disease.