The influx of cold weather for us in the Midwest means that it is cold and flu season. But did you know that your dog can also get “colds” and the flu? From coughing to fevers, contagious viruses can make your dog sick in a few different ways. Kennel cough and canine influenza are not serious illnesses in their own, but the secondary problems they can cause have the potential to harm your pet.
Kennel cough is really a broad name to encompass a whole complex of infections, both viral and bacterial. These cause inflammation of the voice box and vocal cords of your dog, similar to bronchitis in humans. Kennel cough is very contagious, and is transmitted from animal to animal through direct contact and particles in the air. While the name does suggest that dogs can be more likely to contract a kennel cough infection after boarding at a facility, it can be transmitted anywhere that the animals have contact, like a dog park or pet store. Allowing face-to-face contact, and toy and water sharing with unknown dogs can increase the risk. The symptoms of kennel cough can vary depending on the exact virus or bacteria, but is trademarked by the dry cough a dog will have, often sounding like a honking noise. Your dog may also have a runny nose, or a mild fever, and occasionally cough up white phlegm. If the illness truly is kennel cough, most dogs will still have a good appetite and energy level, unless otherwise unhealthy. Vaccines against kennel cough which include parainfluenza, bordetella and adenovirus may help protect your dog against contracting the illness, but are no guarantee. Please also note that if your dog already has symptoms of kennel cough, the vaccines will not help. Most dogs recover on their own in about 3-6 weeks. Rest, fluids, and minimizing irritation to the throat (no smoking, use harness rather than collar) are the best remedy, just like a human cold. Older or sick dogs, as well as puppies, may require more care, and are more likely to develop pneumonia as a result of kennel cough.
But what about the doggie flu? Canine influenza (H3N8) is a highly contagious illness that dogs can get from being in proximity to other sick dogs. Direct contact and droplets in the air (millions after a sneeze!) from a flu-carrying dog are easily picked up by your pet. Canine influenza (CIV) can have a range of symptoms, with a mild moist cough, nasal discharge and lethargy, to the more severe. Some dogs (especially older ones or those who have preexisting health conditions) may run a high fever, cough up blood, refuse to eat, and develop pneumonia. Mild cases of CIV do not require extensive care, and the dog usually recovers on its own in 10-30 days. Supportive care may be given, like a cough suppressant, and supplements. Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed to treat any accompanying infections, but do not resolve CIV itself. Severe cases of canine influenza may require hospitalization, including IV fluids, strong antibiotics and more. Flat-faced breeds (like pugs and bulldogs) are more at risk of complications (like pneumonia and sinus infections) but not contracting the flu itself. A vaccine for CIV does exist, however, it may not be right for every dog. For example, if I lived in the remote countryside, where my dog had little contact with others and no reported cases of CIV in the area, I probably wouldn’t vaccinate him or her. Canines that live in urban, highly populated areas, with reports of CIV are the most likely candidates for the vaccine. While your dog could contract the flu and recover on its own, it is still important to consult your veterinarian. Most will do a blood test to confirm, as well as an x-ray to see if any pneumonia is developing. Canine influenza is not contagious to humans, and there is no evidence to support that it can harm you. However, you can spread the germs from dog to dog, so those who work in boarding facilities, dog-walkers, pet-sitters and shelter volunteers should be sure to sanitize all equipment and their hands between each contact.
Just like the colds and flu that people can get, kennel cough and canine influenza are not fatal to a dog. However, the secondary problems they can cause, and the threat that they pose to elderly or sick dogs can be a dangerous situation. If you suspect your dog has any illness, contact your vet for advice and keep your dog away from all others. Quarantining your pet ensures that it does not make other dogs sick, especially those who may not recover as well. While we like to think our pets don’t get sick, a little cough and fever are possible, so keep on the lookout, and take care of your canines!
Sources: ASPCA, The Center for Disease Control (CDC), www.petmd.com, www.pets.webmd.com