Canine Flu: What Do Dog Owners Need to Know?
Vet Editorial by Dr. Ginny Mule
The 2017-2018 influenza (flu) season has been making headlines as one of the worst in recent history for people. As of February 23rd, 2018 the CDC is reporting elevated levels of flu activity, and there have been a total of 97 pediatric deaths due to the influenza virus across the country. This, in addition to the recent emergence of canine influenza as a disease of importance in dogs, has a lot of pet owners worried, but should they be? The goal of this blog post is to provide a broad overview of canine influenza- what we know, what we don’t know, and how best to keep the canines in your life happy and healthy.
Author’s note- there have been no diagnosed cases of canine influenza in the greater Morgantown area, but many surrounding states as well as greyhound racing tracks in southern West Virginia have experienced outbreaks.
What is canine influenza virus?
Canine flu is caused by an “influenza A” virus of either the H3N8 or H3N2 strains. It is a respiratory disease, similar to the forms of influenza that circulate in people, but at this time the specific virus infecting dogs has NOT been documented to infect people. At this time, there are no influenza viruses that can be transmitted from people to dogs, either. It is believed that the H3N8 strain, first identified in 2004, originally mutated from an equine influenza virus. The H3N2 virus seems to have evolved separately, first being identified in a Chicago outbreak in 2015. Dogs infected with canine influenza virus show clinical signs such as sneezing, fever, lethargy, and coughing. In most cases, the disease is self-limiting and resolves with simple, outpatient care in 2-3 weeks, but in some rare cases, dogs require hospitalization for pneumonia. Unlike the human flu, which is usually confined to winter months canine flu outbreaks happen year-round.
Most dogs recover from canine flu with just rest and supportive care.
How do dogs get canine flu?
The canine influenza virus is most commonly transmitted by contact with infectious respiratory secretions through barking, coughing, and sneezing in proximity to other dogs. It can also be spread by contaminated objects, called fomites, such as clothing, food bowls, and medical equipment. So far, the majority of outbreaks have occurred where large numbers of dogs congregate- most commonly dog shows and greyhound race tracks. Although there have been no specific outbreaks associated with boarding kennels, doggie daycares, or dog parks, these environments do present a risk because of high numbers of congregating dogs.
What should I do if my dog is exhibiting signs of canine flu?
The canine flu shares a lot of clinical signs with other respiratory diseases such as kennel cough. If your dog is showing respiratory symptoms, we recommend that you make an appointment with your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. While your dog is coughing or sneezing, refrain from bringing them to dog parks, daycare, or places where they are going to interact with other dogs. When you call to make an appointment, please be sure to tell the receptionist what clinical signs your dog is having (coughing, sneezing, lethargy, discharge) so that appropriate steps can be taken to prevent transmission to other pets. After doing a physical examination, your veterinarian can determine which medical tests are appropriate and what treatments are necessary for your dog.
Is there a vaccine?
There are currently vaccines available for both known strains of canine influenza. A dog must receive a series of two shots, distanced at 3-4 weeks apart, to receive the best immunity. The vaccine must then be boostered annually to provide continued protection. The canine influenza vaccine, like most human flu vaccines, is not fully protective against infection. Vaccinated dogs can still become sick, and even contagious to other dogs, but are expected to experience milder clinical signs and a shorter disease duration.
Should I vaccinate my dog?
This is a difficult question to answer; there is no across-the-board recommendation for every dog. If you are concerned about canine influenza, or think your dog is at risk, then vaccination is never a bad idea. Like other vaccines, there is some risk of adverse vaccine reactions, but the vast majority of dogs will not experience any side effects other than mild fatigue. At this time, Cheat Lake is NOT requiring the canine influenza virus for dogs boarded at our kennel, but we encourage you to discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian before boarding. Pet owners should definitely consider vaccinating if they participate in dog shows, agility competitions, or are otherwise in contact with large number of unknown dogs on a regular basis.
Please check back for updates on our recommendations and boarding vaccine requirements.
The information in this blog post was drawn mostly from the AVMA Canine Influenza FAQ page at https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Control-of-Canine-Influenza-in-Dogs.aspx and from Merck Animal Health at www.dogflu.com.