Educating yourself about Canine Parainfluenza



Photograph: iStock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham


Canine parainfluenza is a virus that can contribute to respiratory infections, often lumped together as kennel cough. A more technical term for the condition is infectious tracheobronchitis, and dogs may develop the illness from different viruses or bacteria, including Bordetella.


The most common symptom of canine parainfluenza is coughing. However, some dogs can also develop a secondary bacterial infection that can make them feel even worse. Like many infections, dogs can pass canine parainfluenza to other dogs quite readily, particularly in kennels and shelters. Unfortunately, many dogs may be sharing the germs when they aren't symptomatic, causing a rapid spread of the infection.


For most dogs, canine parainfluenza is not life-threatening and will resolve with minimal treatment. In addition to coughing, other common symptoms include fever, lethargy, inappetence, and sneezing. Unfortunately, some dogs may develop significant complications, such as pneumonia, that need to be treated with more intensive care.


Canine parainfluenza is not species-specific and can spread to other mammals, including cats and even people, especially if they are immunocompromised, although this is not nearly as common as transmission between dogs.


Diagnosing canine parainfluenza is often presumptive, based upon a dog's history of being boarded, a recent adoption, or even travelling. However, in cases where a more concrete diagnosis is needed, such as a pet still being boarded and potentially exposing other dogs, specific laboratories offer PCR testing.


How is Canine Parainfluenza treated?

Your veterinarian will recommend a course of therapy, including anti-inflammatories such as carprofen for febrile dogs.

Anti-viral treatments are not commonly used in pets. In most cases, veterinarians will not prescribe an antibiotic like doxycycline unless they are also suspicious of a bacterial infection complicating your dog's case.


"At home, you may find that steam can help your dog breathe more comfortably, just like if you have a stuffy nose."

At home, you may find that steam can help your dog breathe more comfortably, just like if you have a stuffy nose. Of course, a humidifier can be beneficial, but you may just want to run a hot shower with the door closed and let your dog spend 10 minutes in the bathroom.


While your dog is sick, they need to be kept away from other dogs, especially those that have not been vaccinated. This means no trips to the dog park, no grooming visits, and no friends coming over.


Vaccinating and preventing infection

You can help reduce the risk of your dog developing a canine parainfluenza infection by taking them to a veterinarian for preventative care. A combination vaccine is usually recommended for puppies and then yearly or every three years for adult dogs. The vaccines most commonly used may be a five-way, six-way, or seven-way vaccine, such as Duramune by Zoetis. In addition to helping protect against parainfluenza, which is not usually a severe infection, these vaccines are often also designed to produce an immune response against canine distemper and canine parvovirus. Unfortunately, these viral infections can be downright deadly.


Most puppies receive these vaccines starting at 6 to 8 weeks, as their mother's immunity is starting to wane in their bodies. Your veterinarian will suggest a schedule, most commonly every 3 to 4 weeks until your dog is at least 16 weeks old.


Importance of vaccines

Vaccines are essential to protecting pets, and side effects are rare. While canine parainfluenza is often more of a nuisance than a serious health risk, you don't want your dog to develop pneumonia or another life-threatening condition. Talk to your veterinarian about the best preventative care schedule for your pet.

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