Canine Influenza

           

Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a newly emerging disease of dogs. It is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by the canine influenza virus. The virus is closely related to the equine influenza and may indeed be a mutant of the latter.

There are two clinical forms - mild and severe. Dogs with the mild form develop a cough lasting 10 to 30 days. The cough is similar to "kennel cough" and may be misty and soft or dry. In fact, canine influenza may be misdiagnosed as kennel cough. (Kennel cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and by parainfluenza virus.). Many of the dogs with the mild form develop a thick yellow/greenish nasal discharge. The severe form of canine influenza is characterized by high fevers (104ºF to 106ºF), depression and pneumonia. The disease however has low mortality rate.

This virus is new to the immune system of the dog population and will affect virtually all dogs that are exposed to the virus. Luckily, most dogs are affected by the mild form.

The disease was first recognized in racing greyhounds in January 2004 at a track in Florida. Since then it spread rapidly around the nation, involving animal shelters, humane societies, rescue groups, pet stores, boarding kennels, and veterinary clinics.

There is no vaccine for the disease. Dogs that are boarding and those which are taken to the dog parks, pet stores or any other dog-crowded location are at high risk.

Sick dogs are treated with supportive care (fluid, nutrition etc.) and antibiotics to control secondary bacterial infections. New antiviral medications help reduce the severity of the disease. Dogs with the severe form may require in-hospital intensive care and other measures to overcome the pneumonia.

The influenza virus has a high mutation rate and undergoes structural changes continuously. That makes vaccine development very challenging.

It is very likely that many dogs will contract the dog flu in the near future. Minimizing exposure to dog-crowded areas is the only way to reduce the chances of infection.

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Yuval Nir
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