Canine influenza update: what you need to know

Influenza is as contagious in dogs as it in humans, however unlike human flu, dog flu is not seasonal, and can strike any time. A new strain of canine influenza is making waves across North America, and concerned dog lover should educate themselves on how to protect their dog.

Influenza is a viral disease. Canine flu was not known in dogs until 2004-06, when the H3N8 influenza strain was discovered in racing greyhounds in Florida. This strain had mutated and jumped from horses to dogs (influenza can be a tricky virus and is sometimes known to jump species, like swine flu and bird flu in humans). H3N8 is not known to be in Canada.

There is a second strain, H3N2,that has recently been reported that originated in South Korea. Illnesses caused by the H3N2 canine influenza virus have been reported from veterinary hospitals, kennels and animal shelters in South Korea, China and Thailand, and recently, from dogs in the United States, where an outbreak was detected in Chicago and the midwestern states.

The H3N2 canine influenza virus infects both dogs and cats, and cats can spread it to other cats. Ferrets and guinea pigs can become infected but seem to be less susceptible, and there is no evidene of H3N2 (as of writing) in chickens, ducks, mice, or pigs.

Signs of flu in dogs are the same as you would see in humans: these dogs tend to be sick. They have sneezing, coughing, green or yellow nasal discharge, a fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Pneumonia as well as permanent damage to the lungs can occur. Canine influenza virus is very contagious and easily spread. Dogs become infected with influenza by contact with other dogs that have the infection, and outbreaks are typically limited to animal shelters, kennels, doggie daycares, boarding facilities, or other places where high numbers of dogs are housed together.

Like human flu, there is no cure other than the virus running its course. A dog that is sick with influenza must be isolated from other dogs, be allowed to rest, kept warm, and hydrated with intravenous or subcutaneous fluids if necessary. Antibiotics for pneumonia can also be prescribed. If your dog has been diagnosed with the signs of the flu, you should consider the following: Keep him or her home and avoid activities where other dogs can be exposed while the dog is coughing or exhibiting other signs of respiratory disease, usually for about 2 weeks. Keeping your dog’s toys and food and water bowls clean with soap and water can also help prevent spread of the disease. You should disinfect your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and wash clothing after exposure to dogs that have signs of respiratory disease to avoid transmitting infection to other dogs.

There are vaccines available to inoculate your dog against both H3N8 and H3N2 canine influenza: the vaccine is a 2 series – two doses 2-4 weeks apart are required. If your dog is at risk of exposure to influenza by contact with other dogs, or if you live in a high risk area, or if you board your dog or utilize a day care facility, then you should talk with your veterinarian about vaccinating against canine influenza. Vaccination against canine flu should be considered for any at-risk breed, dogs with heart or respiratory conditions, dogs that travel or show, and those that are boarded, visit training facilities or groomers. Be aware that because of the risk of infection, many boarding and day care facilities require that your dog be vaccinated against canine influenza.

Knowledge and common sense are your best defenses against canine influenza, so be aware of any information about outbreaks of canine influenza in your area, and take appropriate precautions to keep your dog healthy. If your dog has been exposed to other dogs recently and is developing any of the clinical signs of flu: fever, cough, loss of appetite – then visit your veterinarian immediately.

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