By Nicole Pajer
Flu season has arrived—for humans and for dogs. As people march into medical centers to nab their annual vaccination, veterinarians across the country are recommending that dog owners consider a similar immunization for their four-legged companions.
The canine flu (H3N8) aka “the dog flu” is a contagious respiratory infection that was first discovered in 2004 when the virus jumped from horses and began affecting several breeds of racing dogs. Since then, 38 states have reported infected dogs, but, according to Dr. Edward J. Dubovi, Director of Virology at Cornell’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center, outbreaks tend to be sporadic and then dwindle down.
With that being said, the canine influenza appears to be on the rise this holiday season, particularly in areas of New York, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. Fortunately, experts say that most cases are generally mild, can be treated if caught in time, and are preventative.
Here is some more information on the virus and how you can keep your dog healthy this holiday season:
How is the dog flu spread?
Since dogs have no natural immunity to this virus, canine influenza can be easily transmitted between dogs; an infected dog can pass it to another dog through aerosolized respiratory secretions (sneezing, panting, etc.). The virus can also spread through canine contact with contaminated objects and by people who move between infected and uninfected dogs.
According to veterinarian Shari Brown, signs of canine influenza can actually mimic kennel cough (a dry cough) but can also be a moist cough that persists for 7 to 30 days.
What to do if you think your dog has the dog flu?
Brown recommends that If an owner notes a cough that lasts longer than two days combined with other symptoms (nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, lethargy, decreased appetite), they should see a veterinarian immediately. Your vet will perform a test to see if your dog has canine influenza and if he tests positive, will prescribe a treatment plan.
How is it treated?
Most canine influenza cases are considered mild and involve treatments consisting of supportive care. Dogs may be given several medications to make them feel more comfortable as well as fluids to ensure that they are properly hydrated.
“Just like human flu, we will treat with antibiotics to help protect against secondary infections. With the severe form, dogs show signs of fevers and pneumonia. These dogs sometimes have to be hospitalized,” explains Brown.
Preventing the dog flu
Keeping your dog away from infected dogs is the best way to prevent dog flu. If an owner is exposed to dogs or facilities with infected dogs, all clothing, surfaces, and hands should be disinfected before coming into contact with an uninfected dog.
A H3N8 vaccination can help protect against certain strains of canine influenza. The vaccine consists of two shots given several weeks apart. These shots are preventative and will not treat a dog once it is infected. In the U.S., the average cost of each shot is about $50.
Should you vaccinate your dog against canine influenza?
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s stance is that dogs that are in frequent contact with other dogs should be vaccinated against canine influenza to help prevent the spread of the virus.
While the vaccination is definitely advised in high-risk infection areas, many veterinarians, like Dubovi, recommend that owners make a risk assessment before deciding whether or not to vaccinate.
“CIV is transmitted most efficiently with dogs in close contact—kennels, shelters, day care facilities, and perhaps dog parks. In those enzootic regions, dogs in these risk categories may benefit from vaccination just as they would for the standard respiratory vaccines. The other risk group are those that do dog rescue work where dogs are moved from enzootic areas to areas without a history of infection,” says Dubovi.
Brown says that although her veterinary clinic is not in an “infected zone,” they still administer the vaccinations because some boarding facilities are starting to require it before accepting dogs. “It may also be recommend for dogs that are in doggie day care every day (being in an area with multiple dogs allows the virus to spread more easily),” she explains.
While the vaccine will significantly lower the odds of your dog coming down with canine influenza, it’s important to note that it only protects against certain strains and therefore won’t guarantee that your dog won’t get the flu. Owners should access whether or not their dog should be vaccinated based on the lifestyle of their own pet. Even vaccinated dogs should be kept away from people, objects, and dogs that have come into direct contact with the virus. If your dog becomes sick, don’t panic. Take him to the vet and follow the suggested treatment plan. This virus is generally mild and if properly treated, infected dogs should experience a full recovery.
Has your dog ever caught the flu? How was it?