dog under a blanket on whiteIf you are a dog owner and have been paying much attention to the media, you have probably heard about the recent canine influenza/kennel cough outbreak affecting dogs in the Chicagoland area. Read on to learn what you need to know about your dog and the 2015 outbreak.

Traditional Kennel Cough

The occasional kennel cough outbreak affects all kennels and boarding facilities. This highly contagious upper respiratory disease is an infectious tracheobronchitis that affects dogs specifically. Many viruses and bacteria can combine to result in the disease, making each outbreak a little bit different.

The three most common culprits implicated in kennel cough are Bordetella (a bacteria), parainfluenza (a virus) and adenovirus (a virus). We vaccinate for all three of these regularly in dogs that are considered high risk.

Kennel cough typically causes a mild cough that gradually increases in intensity to a loud, “honking” cough. It may be accompanied by a mild decrease in appetite and fever. Most dogs recover quickly, especially if they have been vaccinated.

How the 2015 Kennel Cough/Canine Influenza Outbreak is Different

The current outbreak ravaging Chicago area pooches is a whole different beast. This is largely due to what appears to be a new influenza virus joining the party.

Prior to this year, canine influenza virus was a relatively uncommon problem in this area. Canine influenza first surfaced about ten years ago in Greyhound kennels in Florida. A vaccine was developed for it, but it was not widely used due to the previous rarity of the disease. This particular strain of influenza though is completely new to the United States.

Kennel cough complicated by canine influenza doesn’t look much different from the more traditional kennel cough infection, but it does carry a much higher risk of the pet developing a secondary pneumonia. This can result in serious illness, and potentially death.

While traditional kennel cough is quite contagious, canine influenza virus is even more so. The virus can survive up to 48 hours on hard surfaces and 24 hours on clothing. This means that a person in contact with an infected dog could potentially spread the virus without direct dog to dog contact.

Protecting Your Dog

With a number of Chicago area dogs having died already due to complications from the outbreak, pet owners are understandably concerned. In order to protect your dog, you should:

Be sure vaccines are up to date – Pets who are vaccinated against the common players involved in kennel cough infections tend to be able to better fight off infection. This results in less severe, shorter infections. Please remember that your dog will not be fully protected immediately following the vaccine and will need a booster. The current vaccine is a slightly different strain than the current outbreak, but dogs that are vaccinated for canine influenza are better at resisting the virus than those that aren’t.

Avoid high risk situations – Until the outbreak is under control, it is probably safest to avoid situations where your dog may have direct contact with other dogs when possible. This includes doggy day cares, boarding facilities, grooming parlors, and dog parks.

Seek care early – If your dog is showing symptoms of a problem such as coughing, acting lethargic or depressed, or not eating well, do not delay in seeking care. This is particularly important if your pet has been around other dogs in the last few weeks. Early intervention is key in helping infected dogs.

While this year’s kennel cough outbreak is particularly concerning, researchers are working on better understanding what is happening. In the meantime, being sure your pet is vaccinated and avoiding situations where he or she may be exposed is an important part of keeping your pet safe. Please call us with any questions or concerns.