Based on polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, technology, this new test can provide results in as little as 24-48 hours, claims researcher Christian Leutenegger, who was the creator of this test at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Using the current testing techniques available, a diagnosis of this influenza takes several days. This can be very harmful to the dog.
The University of California has applied for a patent on the new test, but in the meantime, it is being used today for diagnosing canine influenza at UC Davis’ Lucy Whittier Molecular and Diagnostic Core Facility. “By analyzing the RNA collected on a swab from the dog’s throat, this test provides the quickest and most accurate test for canine influenza now available,” said Leutenegger. “We have alerted veterinarians throughout California that the test is available.”
The PCR method is a very sensitive test that can detect small amounts of the virus’s genetic material in the sample collected on the swab. The PCR process uses an amplification technique that multiplies the existing DNA or RNA so that it can be identified more easily. Before the development of this test, veterinarians relied on serum antibody tests to diagnose canine influenza. The drawback of such blood tests is that they cannot detect the disease until the dog begins to produce sufficient antibodies to the virus, which may be several days after symptoms appear.
Canine influenza is an upper respiratory disease that was first diagnosed, in 2004, amongst racing greyhounds at a Florida racetrack. Further testing has revealed antibodies for canine influenza virus detected in dogs in animal shelters, adoption groups, pet stores, boarding kennels and veterinary clinics in almost 20 states.
The disease, which appears in mild or severe forms, is closely related to influenza in horses. Veterinary researchers report that it is spread much the way other flu viruses are spread- through exposure to droplets of fluid that are dispersed by coughing. Dogs can also catch the virus from saliva or mucus on shared toys or food dishes. Fortunately, there is no evidence that canine influenza can be passed to humans.
Dogs with a mild case of the disease will likely have a persistent cough that sometimes mimics the bacterial disease known as “kennel cough” and may also have a thick nasal discharge. In more severe cases of canine influenza, they may develop high fevers and pneumonia. The disease appears to kill 5 to 8 percent of the infected dogs.
Currently, there is no vaccine available for canine influenza; veterinarians treat infected dogs with supportive care so that their immune systems can fight off the disease. Antibiotics may be given to deal with secondary bacterial infections, and fluids may be administered to prevent dehydration.