By: Laura Goldmanh
January 25, 2018
We’re all aware of the H3N2 flu epidemic that’s made tens of thousands of people sick, but did you know the highly contagious canine influenza (CI) is also spreading across the United States and parts of Canada?
Dogs are becoming infected with the canine influenza virus (CIV) through direct contact with other dogs, nasal secretions, contaminated objects like food bowls and leashes, and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It’s important to note that dogs rarely get sick from humans with the flu, and there’s no evidence (for now, at least) that dogs with the virus can transmit it to humans – but cats in an Indiana shelter became sickened with it in 2016.
There are currently two strains of the canine influenza virus (CIV) in the U.S.: H3N8 and H3N2. The H3N8 strain, which originated in horses and then spread to dogs, was first identified in 2004 in Florida’s racing greyhounds and has since spread to dozens of other states. Three years ago, the H3N2 strain caused a CI outbreak in Chicago. It was the first time this strain sickened dogs (and cats) outside Asia, where it had previously been identified.
All dogs are at risk for getting the flu. CI is deadliest for puppies and senior dogs, as well as dogs with weakened immune systems. Fortunately, the death rate is under 10 percent.
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Symptoms to Watch For
Dogs with the flu virus may show symptoms like the following:
A persistent cough
Thick nasal discharge
Fever of 104 to 105 degrees
Lack of appetite
If your dog has any of these symptoms, go see a veterinarian. Because CI symptoms are similar to kennel cough and other illnesses, your veterinarian can run laboratory tests that will diagnose if your dog has the flu. If that’s the case, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic to fight secondary infections and an anti-inflammatory to reduce fever and pain. In severe cases, your dog may need fluid therapy to restore hydration, and hospitalization may be necessary.
About 20 percent of infected dogs show no symptoms at all, but they can still be contagious.
Does Your Dog Really Need a Flu Shot?
Fortunately, just as for people, a flu shot is available for dogs. Although it may not completely prevent dogs from getting sick, it can significantly decrease the symptoms, severity and spread of infection.
The vaccine can be given to dogs that are six weeks of age and older. The initial two vaccines are given to dogs six weeks apart. After that, dogs receive an annual booster shot.
The AVMA refers to the flu shot as a “lifestyle” vaccination, meaning it’s recommended for dogs that are frequently exposed to other dogs at parks, boarding facilities, grooming salons and other places. You should confer with your veterinarian to see if your dog needs the vaccination. Be aware that many animal hospitals, kennels and other facilities now require all dogs to be vaccinated against CI.
Prevent the Spread of Canine Influenza
In addition to vaccinating your dog against CI, here are some ways you can prevent the flu from spreading:
Isolate dogs that are infected or have been around an infected dog. Dogs infected with H3N8 should be isolated from other dogs for at least three weeks, while those infected with H3N2 should be isolated for at least one week.
Wash your hands after you touch other dogs. The virus can live on our hands for 12 hours (and on our clothing for 24 hours).
Thoroughly clean food and water bowls, crates and other shared objects. The viruses don’t typically survive longer than 48 hours in the environment, and can be killed by disinfectants (just make sure any cleansers you use are pet friendly).
Since CI can quickly spread in places where dogs are in close contact with each other, please sign and share this petition urging U.S. animal shelters to ensure all dogs stay healthy and adoptable by being vaccinated against the flu.
Photo credit: gerson_rodriguez
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