by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
Yes, dogs can get the flu, but fortunately not the H1N1 virus that’s been
getting so much attention lately. Similar to the human form, canine flu is a
contagious respiratory disease in dogs which is thought to be a mainly airborne
virus, most likely transmitted by an infected dog coughing or sneezing on
another. In otherwise healthy dogs, statistics show that the canine flu is a
fairly mild disease with most dogs recovering completely in two to three weeks.
The canine influenza virus (CIV) was first noted in greyhounds about 5 years
ago. CIV appeared quite dangerous at the time, with many deaths (now known to be
due to secondary pneumonia arising from the conditions in which the greyhounds
lived and worked). In the vast majority of dogs CIV produces only mild,
self-limiting respiratory signs: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and fever, for
up to 3 weeks. It is similar to kennel cough in that antibiotics do not affect
the course of the disease.
The canine flu is very contagious; and like human flu, it is most contagious
during the 2-4 day incubation period before signs of illness appear, making
prevention difficult. It is typically found in shelters, kennels, and other
facilities where many dogs (especially puppies) are housed together.
A vaccine against CIV recently received conditional approval. However, again
like human flu vaccines, it does neither prevents infection nor prevents
symptoms. At best, it may reduce the severity and duration of illness, and it
may reduce viral shedding by an infected dog. Because it is a killed vaccine, a
2-shot series is required, with 2-4 weeks between inoculations. Immunity
develops slowly; so the vaccine doesn’t really take effect until 3-4 weeks after
the first shot. Giving the vaccine after a dog has been exposed to the virus is
The CIV vaccine is considered non-core, and vaccination is not recommended for
most dogs. Some boarding kennels are requiring vaccination for CIV; such
requirements are not based on science, but on fear. CIV spreads through
respiratory secretions and contaminated objects (kennel surfaces, food and water
bowls, collars and leashes), and by people moving between infected and
uninfected dogs without using proper precautions. The virus remains alive and
infectious on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on
hands for 12 hours. Good hygiene and isolation of infected dogs will limit, if
not eliminate, transmission.
CIV, like many other viruses, is most likely to infect young puppies, and older
dogs who already have other health problems. The best defense is a healthy
immune system—that is, one that is well supported with great nutrition,
appropriate exercise, and good stress management.
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