There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about outbreaks of canine influenza and we have had a lot of concerned owners calling about this. This month we will try to allay some of those fears and help you understand more about this virus.
Human influenza has been well-known for a long time. Before the advances in modern medicine and virus research, pandemics sickened and killed thousands of people. Now, those who succumb generally have compromised immune systems either from concurrent illness or age. The annual flu vaccine that is recommended changes because every year some strains are more prevalent than others. Canine influenza is a little different.
Canine influenza was first seen in the United States in 2004. Originally affecting horses, the H3N8 strain made the leap to dogs. Several years later, a vaccine was developed to that particular strain. In 2015, a new outbreak started in the south and has since spread to several states. An avian strain, H3N2 was implicated. Recently, a vaccine has been developed to prevent H3N2 also.
The signs of canine influenza are similar to those in humans. Coughing, nasal discharge, lack of appetite, fever and lethargy can all be seen. Fortunately, while most dogs that are exposed will show some signs, it is often mild and they recover uneventfully. A minority of cases can be severe, becoming pneumonia and requiring more intensive care. Like most viruses, there is no cure for canine influenza. Supportive care at home if mild or in the hospital if severe is warranted.
It is important to know that canine influenza is highly contagious. Direct contact is an obvious way, but the virus can travel in the air and on items such as bowls, brushes, toys and leashes as well as on humans’ hands and clothing. We have not had any local outbreaks to date so there is no need to lock your pets away or prevent them from enjoying walks on the trail or playing in the dog park at this point. However, should we start seeing cases, it may be necessary to limit exposure to strange dogs for a while. Cats can occasionally get the virus but it doesn’t generally cause serious signs. Humans do not seem to be susceptible to canine influenza.
Blairstown Animal Hospital does currently have a bivalent vaccine that protects against both H3N8 and the new H3N2 strains. Some kennels are requiring this vaccine so if you are boarding this summer, be sure to check with your facility. Also, if you will be traveling with your pet to an area where outbreaks have been reported (southern states including Georgia and Florida through Tennessee and the Carolinas as well as the Chicago area), it would be prudent to consider vaccinating your dog. The vaccine is given as a series of two with the second 2-4 weeks after the first. It is important to note that immunity does not really become sufficient until about one to two weeks after the second vaccine, so it is important to plan ahead.
If your dog is showing respiratory signs such as coughing and runny nose or if you have any questions about canine influenza, please contact us so we can keep your pet healthy through the summer season.