Pet Points:Vaccination key to fighting canine influenza's spread

Influenza is making headlines in the veterinary world. 

Canine influenza was first reported 13 years ago when the equine influenza virus H3N8 jumped species and was seen in greyhounds. The newly adapted virus caused infections at dog racing tracks, kennels and shelters. The virus had been identified for 40 years in horses before becoming a “newly emerging pathogen in the dog population.”

The second canine influenza virus was first identified in South Korea a decade ago and identified as H3N2. It was found in the United States in the spring of 2015. As of October, canine influenza had been confirmed in 46 states. Thousands of dogs have tested positive nationwide, although this represents only the dogs that were suspected and had samples sent to a laboratory for testing. Because it is a new virus, dogs do not have immunity and infections after exposure are very common.

Ohio is currently in the midst of an outbreak. The presence of infected dogs so close to this area is concerning.   

Combined vaccinations for both forms of canine influenza are available. They are now recommended for social dogs who visit dog parks, are kenneled, in day care, are frequently groomed or travel. Dogs can be exposed if they contact other infected dogs, and that includes veterinary facilities.

Vaccination with two injections three weeks apart take a month to provide protection. Annual boosters are needed. Vaccinations now will prevent a panic if we see a local outbreak.

Signs of canine influenza are cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite. The coughing can be confused with other known diseases including bordetella (kennel cough) and parainfluenza. Some infected dogs can remain free of symptoms but most show illness for two to three weeks. The disease is very contagious and has the potential to be fatal. Cats can become infected when in contact with sick dogs.

Spread of canine influenza is from both direct contact with respiratory secretions and indirect contact with clothing, hands or objects. Sanitation with cleaning and disinfecting is important.

Vaccines may not prevent infection completely but can shorten the course and severity of the disease. As this is a new infection, most veterinarians have never seen the disease in their patients. Testing is required to differentiate canine influenza from other causes of canine cough. Discussing vaccinations with your veterinarian is important. Both veterinary and human medicine must be aware that influenza virus can change quickly and adapt to a different species.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you’d like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.