Published on February 2nd, 2018 | by Debbie Martin0
The flu virus isn’t just a threat to human beings – the canine version of the virus can be just as nasty. Canine influenza, like its human counterpart, is enormously contagious. In environments where dogs are placed in close proximity to one another, such as in kennels, it can quickly be transmitted from animal to animal. This makes controlling the spread of the disease in such environments tricky.
Canine Influenza is a relatively new pathogen. It’s caused by a number of different strains of virus, each of which is around a hundred nanometres across, and built from a range of single-strand RNA molecules and proteins.
The first strain to be identified was Influenza type A, in Florida in 2004. The strain was called H3N8, based on the number of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase glycoproteins present in the virus itself. More varieties of the type A virus have since been identified, each causing a range of different symptoms.
Generally speaking, infected dogs will exhibit the following symptoms:
- Coughing and sneezing
Flu infections range from the relatively mild to the extremely serious. The mild ones tend to be evidenced by a mild cough and discharge from the mouth. This will persist for no more than a month before the dog’s immune system deals with the virus – and in most cases it’s less than half that time.
More serious infections, on the other hand, can see a dog develop an extremely high fever very quickly. They may also develop pneumonia as the virus infiltrates the tiny blood vessels of the lungs. This can also result in secondary, bacterial infections, and cause the dog to cough up blood.
As well as affecting the alveoli (the tiny air sacks found in the lungs), influenza can also lead to digestive trouble and a loss of appetite.
How is dog flu diagnosed?
Since dog flu shares a number of its symptoms with a host of other common diseases, it can sometimes be tricky to diagnose. In order to help your vet identify the presence of the condition (or its absence), it’s important to provide them with as complete a history of the dog’s activities as possible. Have they been in contact with other dogs which might have been carrying the virus?
While it’s possible to directly detect the virus itself, this is usually so difficult as to be not worth pursuing. Instead, a vet will first look to find the footprints the virus leaves on the body – most notably in the form of the immune system’s response to the virus’s presence.
Your vet will examine the dog and take note of any clinical signs. They’ll also want to perform a few other tests, including a blood test. In dogs that have contracted the virus, the immune system will have responded by producing more white blood cells in order to battle the virus. Of these white blood cells, neutrocytes will be more widely represented in the general white-blood-cell population.
A vet might also wish to examine the lungs. This might be done using an X-ray machine. This will help to establish the extent of the damage to the lungs, and identify the type of any pneumonia that might have developed.
A vet might also want to examine the lungs directly, with the help of a bronchoscope – a sort of camera attached to a long, flexible pole. This can be inserted down the dog’s trachea in order to see what’s going on in greater detail. Samples of lung cells might also be obtained by filling the trachea with a special saline solution called a bronchial wash. If the cells contain large amount of bacteria and neutrocytes, then we can conclude that the virus is present.
How is dog flu treated?
The approach taken to treatment will depend on the severity of the infection. What’s essential is that a dog is given plenty of water, allowed to rest, and that they’re isolated from other dogs – ideally for several weeks after all of the symptoms have passed. Whilst the dog’s immune system might have halted the spread of the virus, it will still be carrying the virus, which will pose a threat to other dogs.
If the infection is severe, then the treatment will need to be accordingly aggressive. Where a secondary bacterial infection is present, antibiotics should be administered. Where the dog is coughing severely, your vet might recommend a suppressant. Your dog might need to stay in hospital until they’ve recovered.
How can we prevent dog flu?
The good news for dog owners is that there are vaccines which protect against flu. The vaccine, however, is expensive and not entirely risk-free, and so should only be considered where your vet recommends. Other respiratory conditions, like the notorious ‘kennel cough’ can and should be vaccinated against.
More important, and arguably easier, measures against flu are environmental ones. By controlling the dogs to which your dog is exposed, you’ll protect them against exposure. Avoid handing your dog over to a kennel where possible – and be sure to choose a reputable kennel with strong anti-flu procedures in place if kennelling is absolutely unavoidable.
Unlike other diseases, it’s impossible for dog flu to be transmitted from dogs and humans – which means that you needn’t isolate your dog from the rest of your family. Even cats should be able to freely mix with them – just be sure you prevent them from spreading the virus during walks.
While influenza has been part of the human story for centuries, it’s only relatively recently been discovered in dogs. While it’s mercifully rare, it can be devastating if not identified and treated. In most cases, infected dogs will make a full recovery without veterinary intervention – but sometimes medication and hospitalisation might be necessary.
By ensuring that your dog is properly isolated from infected dogs, and seeking veterinary help when symptoms persist, you’ll be able to give your dog the best possible protection against this rare – though potentially devastating, disease.