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Before we can answer such a question, we must make certain that we understand the facts.
The Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) was first diagnosed in 2004 in racing-Greyhounds in Florida. Over the next decade, CIV slowly spread throughout the United States, with isolated and sporadic cases in 40 states, and has been a persistent health issue in New York, New Jersey, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
The strain of virus identified in these cases, beginning in 2004, is H3N8 and since 2009, a very effective vaccine has been available, which greatly decreases the severity of disease, including limiting the duration of coughing and shedding (spread) of the virus.
Fast forward to this spring of 2015 and the outbreak of canine influenza in the Midwest: this strain of CIV is vastly different than H3N8 and has been traced back to a strain found in Asia, H3N2. The behavior of this 'new strain' of virus, infects dogs quite rapidly, with dogs developing a fever and cough, sometimes within 24 hours of exposure; eyes and/or nose becoming runny; lack of appetite; and dogs seem to tire easily or become lethargic upon the onset of these other symptoms.
One of the most noteworthy properties of this virus is its very long duration of shedding or ability to spread. Infected dogs can spread the virus for up to 24 days and with such capability, it is of the utmost of importance that diagnostic tests are performed to confirm that a coughing dog is actually sick from CIV to prevent unintentional spread of the virus.
Currently, H3N2 has been confirmed in 19 states, including North Carolina.
What can you do?
Cases of coughing dogs are caused by many viruses or bacteria. Vaccinate your pet against as many of them as possible. The best form of protection is with a vaccine that promotes immunity where they need it most - on the mucosal surfaces of the nasal passages. Vaccines that protect against Bordetella, Adenovirus, and Parainfluenza, in an intranasal form (administered through the nose), give you the highest level of protection. Furthermore, vaccinate against CIV, especially if high risk (frequent visitor of boarding, daycare, dog-parks, etc.). While the available CIV vaccine is aimed at protection from the H3N8 strain, there appears to be qualities of cross protection with vaccinated dogs getting much less sick and shedding much less virus. Merck, the manufacturer of the available CIV vaccine, states that immunization requires two 'shots', one 'shot' given two weeks apart. In addition, Merck is covering treatment for dogs, appropriately vaccinated with the H3N8 vaccine, if they should become infected with H3N2.
What else can you do?
Like the flu in people, CIV is spread from respiratory secretions via direct contact or through the air. The virus can be spread through sneezes and coughs; on toys, in water bowls, on clothing, etc. Use good hygiene when interacting with other dogs (even if your dog is not with you, you can carry the virus home and expose your dog).
If your dog develops symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Ask your veterinarian if they are prepared to handle your pet. Many animal hospitals, including ours, have separate entrances and isolation areas to limit exposure in the lobby and waiting areas.
Get your dog tested. The manufacturer of the vaccine for CIV and the Kennel Cough vaccine may be willing to pay for testing and confirming the exact cause of the cough helps plan for treatment and containment.
If your dog is coughing, please keep them away from other dogs, including dog parks, training classes, playdates and daycares, and pet stores.
Lastly, like other infectious diseases that have appeared in our community, Canine Influenza is best controlled with good information, common sense, and a preventative healthcare approach!