Bird flu, swine flu, equine flu, and cat flu! It’s no surprise to learn that there is also a canine flu, and it can make our beloved dogs quite unwell.
Canine flu has been around for a while, with vets first formally diagnosing it in Florida in 2004. However, most dogs have no immunity to this virus. Around 80% of dogs that are exposed to canine flu virus will become ill, with symptoms appearing up to a week after infection. The other 20% will not show any signs of illness, but they can still spread the infection.
The virus is spread when an infected dog sneezes, and sprays infected droplets into his environment. It can also be spread in saliva. Unfortunately, an infected dog is very likely to infect other dogs in the period before he shows any symptoms. Because he will look perfectly healthy, his owners will have no idea that he is carrying the infection. They will continue to take him for walks, to dog parks or to obedience classes.
Most dogs with canine flu will only develop a mild illness, with a runny nose and a cough. They may also go off their food and have a fever. Most dog owners think their dog has a touch of the more common illness kennel cough, however with canine flu, symptoms can last four to six weeks or more. Some dogs will also become more seriously ill with pneumonia, and they may die.
Treatment of canine flu basically involves treating your dog’s symptoms. If he has a severe dose of the flu, he may be given the human drug Tamiflu. Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics to stop bacteria infecting your dog’s inflamed respiratory tract, to try and prevent him getting pneumonia.
There are several things you can do at home to make your dog more comfortable while he recovers from flu.
Take him in the bathroom when you have a shower, and let him breathe in the steam. This will soothe his airways and keep them moist, and help to ease inflammation.
Keep his nose clear of discharge by wiping it with a soft damp cloth. It’s uncomfortable when the discharge dries and cracks on his nose.
Give him Sleepytime Tonic at bedtime. It contains herbal ingredients such as Valerian, Skullcap and Wild Lettuce which are natural sedatives with no side effects. This will make sure he has a restful night’s sleep, which will help him feel better.
In June 2009, a vaccine against canine flu became available. However, vets don’t recommend routine vaccination of all dogs. Whether or not you need to vaccinate your dog depends on your lifestyle.
Think about how your dog spends his time. If he goes to dog shows or obedience training classes and he is exposed to many different dogs on a regular basis, it may be worth considering vaccinating him. Similarly, if you are always taking him to a communal dog park, he is more likely to pick up infection, and vaccinating him would be a good idea.
Dogs with chronic illnesses such as cancer are also at more risk of falling ill with severe canine flu, so it is appropriate to think about immunising them.
If your dog doesn’t mix with other dogs, and spends his days on the couch, except for a stroll around his neighborhood, there’s very little risk of him becoming infected, and he may not need to be subjected to an injection.
Because canine flu can’t spread to people, you can still hug your dog and give him lots of tender loving care. That’s an important part of his treatment, and is guaranteed to lift his spirits when he’s ill.