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Canine Influenza & Senior Dogs – What You Need to Know

August 14th, 2018 by Laurie Brush

Fotolia_87230374_SMedia reports of an oubreak of Canine Influenza H3N2 in West Michigan this summer have many pet parents wondering whether they should vaccinate their senior fur babies. As of this week, 13 cases of Canine Influenza have been reported in Ottawa County and 3 in Kent, with a total of 98 cases in Michigan.

Dogs do not have a natural immunity to H3N2, a relatively new strain that infected 1,000 dogs in Illinois in 2015 and since has spread throughout North America. According to Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice, vaccinations should always be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“Pets with complicated medical histories can be more vulnerable to Canine Influenza, which can, in a weakened immune system, develop into pneumonia,” she said. “But it’s important to remember that the CIV vaccine doesn’t prevent infection; it reduces viral shedding and may lessen the severity and duration of symptoms.”

“Generally, the CIV is considered safe, with few known reactions or contraindications,” Dr. Brush said. “But it’s better to evaluate both the risk and the animal’s condition before assuming it should be given.”

Side effects of the vaccine are generally similar to other vaccine reactions: lethargy, low-grade fever, a lump at the site of injection, hives, and itching. In very rare cases, severe reactions can occur. The newst versions of the CI vaccine innoculates against both strains of Canine Influenza, with two shots required two-to-three weeks apart.

“Social” dogs, those with exposure to others through grooming, boarding, classes, and dog parks, may benefit most from the vaccination, as it also helps reduce the contagion level.

Dogs that contract the H3N2 strain of influenza remain contagious and should be isolated for at least 21 days. About 25% of dogs who contract H3N2 are asymptomatic.

So pet parents whose dogs have medical complications should exercise caution in spending time where there are a number of fellow canines. Many dog daycare facilities and classes are currently requiring that participating pooches have the CIV. Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa and the associated Whiskers University training classes, for example, requested that all pet parents have their member dogs vaccinated by August 10th.

“The best way to reduce the risk for your senior pet is to avoid exposure to locations densely populated by dogs, and to exercise good hygiene after handling other dogs,” Dr. Brush said.

If you feel your dog is showing symptoms of Canine Influenza, your routine care vet may ask that you do not come into the waiting room but may make arrangments to see your dog in another area or in your vehicle. Alternately, Heaven at Home Pet Hospice can assist with an at-home evaluation, and in coordination with your routine care vet, arrange for a vaccination if deemed appropriate.

“While it’s important not to panic, it is a good idea to be familiar with symptoms and to keep an eye on your fur baby with a mind toward minimizing risk,” Dr. Brush said.

 Canine Influenza Primer:

Canine Influenza Facts

  • Strains are H3N8 and H3N2 – West Michigan has recently seen the H3N2 variant, which has a longer contagious period
  • H3N8 was first identified in America in 2004 at a greyhound race track in Florida
  • H2N2 was first identified in Asia in 2006 but infected more than 1,000 dogs in Illinois in 2015. It is believed to have originated in avians and may be transmitted to felines.
  • The flu is transmitted by respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing and barking).
  • According to the CDC, the virus, is not known to be contagious to humans.
  • However, the virus can live on clothing for 24 hours; human hands for 12 hours; and on surfaces for up to 48 hours. It can, therefore, be transmitted to your pet by humans who’ve handled infected dogs. Emerging reports suggest it may be transmitted to felines as well. (CDC)


  • Symptoms show 2-3 days after exposure and include:
  • Moist, soft cough or dry hacking cough
  • Discharge from eyes and nose
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite and fever (as high as 104-106)
  • Duration 21-28 days


  • Dogs with weaker immune systems and complicated medical histories can present with pneumonia
  • This is a secondary infection caused by the illness. It only occurs in severe cases. Dogs that develop pneumonia may need to be hospitalized. These dogs are usually very young, elderly, or immune-compromised. Dogs suffering from the more severe form may have an increased respiratory rate as well.


  • Fluids to maintain hydration
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection

Risk Factors: “Social Dogs”

  • Boarding
  • Grooming
  • Daycare
  • Dog Parks
  • Classes

If you need help at-home help with a senior pet you believe has contracted Canine Influenza, or to determine if your pet would benefit from vaccination, contact us.