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The Truth About Dog Flu and Pneumonia

Posted 06.09.16 by Christine Taylor, DVM


pneumonia coughAs we have discussed, canine influenza- aka the dog flu- is a highly contagious respiratory infection. There are currently two canine strains of this virus known to affect dogs internationally. H3N8 emerged around 2004 in Florida, and continues to cause sporadic disease. H3N2, a mild strain, was recently identified around Chicago in 2015. Geographic locations for this newer strain have expanded in recent months, following the initial outbreak in March of 2015.

What are the signs?

There are two forms of this disease: a mild form, and a more severe form that is often accompanied by pneumonia.

Mild form

Dogs suffering from the mild form of influenza develop a soft moist cough that can persist for 10 to 30 days. They may also be lethargic, and have a poor appetite, accompanied by a fever. Sneezing and discharge from the eyes and/or nose may also be observed. Some dogs may also have a dry, hacking cough, closely resembling that typically seen with classic kennel cough. Dogs can also have a thick nasal discharge, which typically indicates a secondary bacterial infection.

Severe form

Dogs with the severe form of influenza will develop very high fevers, and have clinical signs of pneumonia, such as increased respiratory rates and effort. Fatal cases of pneumonia have been reported, but the fatality rate is less than 10 percent.

How is canine influenza transmitted?/How do I keep my dog from getting the dog flu?

Influenza viruses do not persist in the environment for long, but will spread easily among individuals. Transmission requires direct contact with an infected and contagious dog’s saliva or nasal secretions. The major problem is that dogs are typically contagious even before they begin to show clinical signs; therefore, seemingly healthy dogs can transmit this disease. Puppies and geriatric/senior dogs, as well as patients with compromised immune systems, have the greatest risk for severe illness.

dog pneumoniaIf I think they have dog flu, when should my dog see the veterinarian?

Dogs that reside in, or travel to, areas where there are reported outbreaks are very much at risk, and should be considered to have canine influenza until proven otherwise. A coughing dog should never be ignored. Canine influenza is very contagious, so your veterinarian may request that you enter the hospital through a separate door to minimize potential exposure to other patients.

Tests and treatment will depend on the severity of current illness. For mild disease, the veterinarian might collect samples to identify the cause of illness. Dogs with mild signs will receive supportive care, typically including fluids, cough suppressants, or anti-viral medication, depending on their signs and how long the dog has been sick. For severe cases, chest radiographs (x-rays) are performed to look for evidence of pneumonia. Dogs with severe disease can require hospitalization, with oxygen and fluid therapy.

As with any illness, early intervention is directly related to successful treatment and rapid resolution of disease.

-Dr. Christie Taylor

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