Canine Influenza (H3N8 virus), a mutation of the Equine Influenza Virus, is an influenza type-A virus. Although it is the same type of virus that causes human influenza, the Canine Influenza Virus does not affect humans.
Clinical signs are similar to Kennel Cough (Bordetella) and, in most cases, the virus is not life-threatening. Dogs that have passed away during outbreaks did not do so because of the flu virus, but rather pneumonia.
Canine Influenza can be diagnosed in three ways:
- Viral Isolation — This method is costly and extremely difficult to perform.
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) — This is a simple test only requiring a nasal or throat swab. However, this test must be done very early in the onset as by the time a canine is presenting with clinical signs of the H3N8 virus, the virus is no longer being shed.
- Serum Titers — Titers must be paired (meaning one must be performed initially and another performed two to three weeks after the first titer to show a rise in the titer to confirm the disease), but by this time most canines are recovered.
Influenza has mainly been a problem in animal shelters, with some reports in boarding kennels. There is now a vaccination against canine influenza that is on conditional release. This is not a sterilization vaccine (it does not prevent the disease, however, it decreases the severity and time to recover).
The vaccine must be given in two doses two weeks apart from each other to be effective. Immunity does not develop until two weeks after the second, or booster, dose is administered. It is necessary to plan ahead to have immunity when it is needed.
At this time, experts in the veterinary field do not recommend this vaccination for all canine pets, only for those found to be at high risk of contracting the virus such as dogs who board frequently (especially in kennels where the disease has been confirmed), dogs on the show circuit, and dogs in shelter environments.
As a pet owner, this is a disease to be concerned about, but not a disease to panic about. If you have any further questions about Canine Influenza, please feel free to contact us at (215) 723-3971.