Preventing Kennel Cough and Avoiding Canine Influenza

dog flu

Dogs who have canine influenza may have a fever, hacking cough and nasal discharge, as well as, show a lack of energy and loss of appetite. If your dog has any of these symptoms, please get to the vet asap and isolate him/her from other dogs.

Preventing Kennel Cough and avoiding the Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) are top-of-mind right now as both have reached epidemic levels in the Chicago-land area.  There are many things you can do to help prevent the spread of these viruses–including limiting your dog’s  exposure to public places where other dogs gather, thoroughly washing your hands and clothing/shoes after being around other dogs, and using essential oils to clean and disinfect the air and surfaces around your dog.

How bad is it?

According to Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator for the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, the dog flu epidemic has sickened over 1,000 dogs and has been responsible for the death of at least five dogs in the Chicago area since mid-March.  PetSmart has temporarily closed three of their Chicago-area boarding facilities due to Canine Influenza. And in an unprecedented effort to limit the spread of CIV, the Chicago Park District is cooperating with the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association to post signs warning dog owners to enter dog-friendly areas at their own risk.  Some dog-training classes have been postponed, pet stores are discouraging shopping visits from dogs, and a few doggie day cares have closed until the outbreak subsides.

What are the symptoms?

Kennel Cough (also known as Bordetella) is like the common cold in adults. It is contagious, but rarely fatal and runs its course in a few days. Symptoms include a dry, hacking cough, as if something is stuck in the dog’s throat.

Canine Influenza is highly contagious.  The symptoms are similar, but the cough produced by the canine flu virus is often soft and moist.  The flu cough is usually accompanied by a high fever, lack of appetite, lack of energy and a runny nose.  Pneumonia can develop in dogs with severe Canine Influenza.

Who is most at risk?

All dog breeds are equally prone to the Canine Influenza Virus.   Most at risk are those dogs who are active and social, simply because they are out and exposed more.   Dogs with pushed-in faces (like Pekingeses, Pugs, Bulldogs or French Bulldogs) may have a harder time bouncing back from any respiratory problem.  People and cats cannot contract CIV.

What can I do to prevent my dog from getting sick?

Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control officials have warned that the outbreak could last several more weeks.  To prevent exposure or to lessen the impact, follow these guidelines:

  1. Keep your dog at home, away from other dogs and dog owners.  Keep dogs out of common areas such as dog parks, day cares, group training sessions, dog supply stores, boarding facilities…anywhere that the dog could be exposed to the virus.
  2. Wash your hands and change your clothes before seeing another dog to reduce risk of transmission.
  3. Schedule an appointment to see your veterinarian.  There is no cure for the flu, but dogs can be tested for other respiratory problems with similar symptoms.  There is a CIV vaccine available from your veterinarian.   If your dog is–or has been–frequently around other dogs, please consider the vaccine as a preventative.  Having dogs current on vaccines is a plus, but does not make a dog immune to Canine Influenza, Kennel Cough or any upper respiratory disease.
  4. Diffuse essential oils like Eucalyptus Radiata and pine to clean and disinfect the air and surfaces around the dog’s space.   Eucalyptus Radiata aids in opening up the lungs when an upper respiratory infection is present.  It is very gentle and is known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Pine also works for respiratory issues and works even better when mixed with eucalyptus.  Pine’s medical properties are hormone-like, anti-diabetic, cortisone-like, antiseptic and a lymphatic stimulant.Prepare a mixture by combining essential oils such as eucalyptus, pine and lavender with water. Dilute the mixture (usually 4-6 drops per cup of water) and use a cold-water aroma diffuser in the same room as the dog for about 30 minutes so that a sufficient amount of oil is absorbed.  Repeat twice daily for five days.  You can also use a spray bottle to vaporize the air around your pet.  Usually, this immediately stops coughing and will help the dog to breathe with ease. Essential oils can be found at any health food store.  Don’t forget that dogs’ noses are very sensitive and too much pungent oil may be highly irritating.  Always dilute the oils and use the smallest amount possible until you know how the dog will react.
  5. Your dog’s best defense against infection is a strong immune system, which can be boosted with good nutrition, exercise, and supplements.
What do I do if I think my dog is sick or has been exposed to the virus?

If your dog is at risk or is experiencing symptoms, get the dog to a vet as soon as possible.  Dog owners whose dogs are coughing or showing other signs of respiratory disease should not expose other dogs to the virus.  If your dog is coughing, as a precaution and a courtesy to others, your dog should be isolated from other dogs–including those dogs in vet waiting rooms.  Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing any signs of respiratory disease.

Of course, none of these are guarantees that your dog will avoid kennel cough or canine influenza.  But an ounce of prevention will go a long way to keep your dogs healthy.  Please take care and be extra special cautious until the virus subsides.

For more information about canine influenza, please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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