The parainfluenza virus is often referred to by other names, such as canine influenza virus, greyhound disease and race flu. This virus used to affect only horses and is believed to have adapted to become contagious to dogs as well. Currently, no other species are at risk of this particular strain of the virus. Parainfluenza virus is easily spread from dog to dog and causes symptoms which may become fatal. The highest instances of this respiratory infection are seen in areas with high dog populations, such as race tracks, boarding kennels and pet stores, but it remains highly contagious to any dog of any age.
Symptoms of parainfluenza virus include many general symptoms seen in other infections, viruses and diseases. Symptoms can vary in intensity and commonly affect younger puppies and aging dogs the worst. This virus is commonly mistaken for kennel cough, as the symptoms between the two are similar. It's important to keep in mind that kennel cough usually produces no additional symptoms, other than the cough. Symptoms to look for when parainfluenza virus is suspected are as follows:
- Dry or hacking cough that may worsen with activity
- Difficulty with breathing, wheezing
- Runny nose
- Runny eyes, eye inflammation or conjunctivitis
- Possible pneumonia with depression, loss of appetite and lethargy
Diagnosis and Differentiation
When parainfluenza virus is suspected but only a cough exists, certain tests will be required to differentiate between kennel cough and the more serious parainfluenza virus. A chest x-ray can help to determine the presence of pneumonia. Blood testing may also be important to rule out other possibilities and to inspect over a period of weeks to determine the actual cause of illness. Quickly discovering a proper diagnosis can be helpful when deciding if the dog must be quarantined or to begin effective treatment as soon as possible.
Treatment options for parainfluenza virus vary based upon a number of options. One of the most important factors is to contain the virus and treat it before it can spread to other dogs. Many dogs can recover from this virus naturally, but they remain contagious and the virus can easily spread through respiratory secretions and through the air. For this reason, the virus is usually treated aggressively with antibiotics and antiviral drugs. If necessary, a cough suppressant may be used. Intravenous fluids may help to keep the dog hydrated and strengthen the immune system, preventing secondary bacterial infections or other complications.
It's not recommended to treat parainfluenza virus in dogs from your home, but the following tips may help if you decide this is the best option for your family. Likewise, you may find this information beneficial for home care after hospitalization and treatment for the virus:
- Limit your dog's exercise and play or rest quietly with the dog
- Keep the dog away from other dogs in the household during treatment and for at least one week following
- Feed soft food if throat irritation is present
- Encourage sufficient fluid intake by providing adequate water at all times
- Avoid exposure to loud noises, chemical fumes or other events that may cause undue stress
- Remove collars to encourage sufficient air intake
- Set up a humidifier