If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance that the canine influenza has hit close to home. The very reason that I’ve started to research the canine influenza is because my parent’s 8-year-old English Setter Lexi came down with it herself, and I can honestly say firsthand that it is a pretty wicked virus (at least for her). There were multiple times while she was infected that we thought she might not make it, despite being healthy & in great shape prior to this.
Throughout this article, I’m going to compile information from various resources & then comment on what we’ve seen with Lexi. As always, please keep in mind that I’m not a veterinarian, but I have pulled information from the most credible resources I can find. One other thing that is worth noting before we start is that every dog is obviously going to react differently to the virus. If your dog does come down with canine influenza, your veterinarian is by far your biggest ally.
History & Scientific Facts About Canine Influenza
Canine influenza (otherwise known as the dog flu) is a Type A influenza virus. There are currently two active strains, which have been identified as H3N8 & H3N2. These viruses have shown to be able to grow quickly & mutate into different strains that have ultimately acquired the ability to be transmitted from dog to dog (more on that later).
2004 was the first time that the canine H3N8 influenza was identified down in Florida. Oddly enough, it’s thought that this strain developed from a horse influenza that acquired the ability to also infect dogs. Since then the H3N8 virus has been identified in dogs in most states throughout the United States.
The H3N2 strain of the canine influenza virus is definitely the newer version of it. First identified in March of 2015 in the Chicago, Illinois area. Before it was found in Chicago, this strain of the virus was restricted to areas in Asia such as China, South Korea, & Thailand.
In May of 2017, the virus has clearly started to spread to dogs in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, & Illinois. There have since been reports of the virus in many of the remaining states in the United States.
How Canine Influenza Spreads
From what is currently known about the virus, it transmits from cells within the respiratory tract via coughing, barking & sneezing. Once it exits the infected dog’s system, it can remain alive and active on surfaces for up to 48 hours, clothing for 24 hours, and hands for 12 hours.
If you know you’ve been in contact with dogs with canine influenza you should definitely wash your hands, and even consider changing your clothes. Once a dog has become infected, it can take anywhere from 1 to 8 days to start showing signs of the virus. This is also the period of time when dogs are the most contagious, even if they aren’t actually showing symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
A common misconception about canine influenza is that it is actually a stomach virus. This likely stems from what we refer to as the “stomach flu” in humans. In reality, canine influenza is a respiratory virus.
Unlike the stomach flu in humans, canine influenza does not have any particular “season” when it would be more prevalent than other times of the year. With the contagious nature of the virus it is very likely that it will impact your area all at once, but this is in no relation of time of year.
Approximately 80% of dogs that become infected with the virus end up showing signs and symptoms of canine influenza. While the other 20% may not show the effects of this nasty virus, it’s very important to note that they still have the same period of time where they are contagious and can potentially spread the virus to other dogs.
When symptoms start to show they come in the form of a respiratory infection. People may commonly mistake the canine influenza for kennel cough (tracheobronchitis) simply due to the nature of the illness.
A majority of dogs that become infected with canine influenza end up experiencing more mild symptoms. This mainly involves coughing that lasts from 10 to 21 days, even if they are getting antibiotics & cough suppressants. Other symptoms include nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Many dogs end up developing a fever around 104-105 degrees Fahrenheit.
For some dogs, these symptoms can be significantly more severe. This can include clinical signs of pneumonia with a high fever of 104-106 degrees Fahrenheit, very heavy breathing, and prolonged appetite loss. This can lead to considerable weight loss if you are unable to get your dog to eat anything for an extended period of time.
For my parent’s dog Lexi, the cough had gotten really bad about 5-7 days after she first started showing symptoms. She also lost her appetite, and getting her to eat was a serious chore. They ended up having to resort to getting a prescription medication from the vet to get her to finally eat. This period of time was scary to say the least, as she ended up going almost a full week without eating anything.
There were multiple periods during this first two weeks that we thought we were going to lose our Lexi, despite the fact that just a few weeks ago she was one of the healthiest, most in-shape dogs around.
A few things my parents did to help her through this period were:
- Feeding her literally anything they could get her to get down. This involved attempting to get her to eat chicken, rice, and hamburger among other things.
- They got her multiple IV’s throughout this time period to help her stay hydrated since she often wouldn’t want to drink anything either.
When she would finally drink something but didn’t eat, they put Free Range & Resurgence into her water to try to get her literally any sort of nutritional value.
- Important note: This obviously isn’t what these products are intended for, but after looking at the product facts from the super-expensive food the vet gave them it appeared that the nutritional values lined up pretty well. I am in no way claiming that these products were what got her past this scary period, I’m simply telling you what they did for Lexi.
Treatment for Dog Flu
As with anything health related for your dog, your veterinarian is your best ally when it comes to getting your dog healthy. Since both the H3N8 & H3N2 strains of canine influenza are viral, antibiotics aren’t used to directly treat the virus. However, veterinarians often end up prescribing antibiotics to help fight off any bacterial infections that may come about from the dog’s immune system being weakened while they have canine influenza.
Getting your dog any nutrition you can is critical during this time. If they will still eat for you this won’t be an issue, but if they lose their appetite for a long period of time this can be daunting. Work with your veterinarian during this time to do anything you can to get your dog to get some food down.