Thinking about boarding your dog while you’re away on vacation? Or are you considering regular play dates for your pooch at the neighboring dog park or local doggy daycare? If so, you’ll want to know more about dog flu and the lessons recently learned by veterinarians and dog owners.
“New” dog flu made headlines
More appropriately known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or canine influenza, dog flu made national headlines when more than 1,000 Chicago-area dogs contracted the highly contagious viral infection during early 2015. What we now know is the outbreak was caused by a virus that hadn’t been seen before in the United States. Canine influenza A H3N2 is NOT the same H3N2 influenza virus that infects humans, but it can cause deadly problems in dogs.
Chicago was not the only city whose dogs became sick from the new virus. Canine influenza A H3N2 outbreaks were also documented in Atlanta, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; and Austin, Texas.
How the 2015 outbreak was different
In a survey done by Merck Animal Health, veterinary specialists identified several unique differences between CIRD caused by influenza A H3N2 compared with influenza A H3N8, the virus responsible for previous dog flu cases.
- Dogs between 1 and 7 years old were hit hardest with canine influenza caused by the H3N2 virus.
- Exposure most likely occurred at doggy daycare and boarding facilities in 8 out of 10 cases. Veterinary hospitals and animal shelters also were potential places of exposure.
- Signs associated with H3N2 influenza included coughing, lethargy and fever, with about 25 percent of sick pets also experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea were not reported with the H3N8 strain.
- The time between virus exposure to signs of disease was short — 24 to 48 hours — compared to the more typical two to seven days.
- Infected dogs may shed H3N2 virus for up to 24 days, which is unusually long and much longer than H3N8.
In March 2016, it was reported that cats in a northwest Indiana shelter tested positive for canine influenza A H3N2. These cats had signs of upper respiratory disease including runny nose, congestion, decreased activity, lip smacking and drooling. A number of dogs at the shelter had also tested positive for the dog flu virus, and veterinarians believe the virus spread from those dogs to the cats, although there was no direct contact between dogs and cats.
Steps to help avoid dog flu
You can take steps to reduce your dog’s exposure to canine influenza viruses, which can be transmitted at any time of the year. Check with your veterinarian to learn if dog flu is a potential problem in your area. If your dog is at risk, you may want to keep your pet out of places where exposure is likely to occur and ask your veterinarian if vaccination is appropriate. Vaccines are now available to protect your dog against both canine influenza viruses, in addition to other infectious respiratory diseases (“kennel cough”). Just as with human flu shots, vaccinating your dog may not completely prevent infection but will make it less likely. And if dog flu does occur, the signs are likely to be milder.
Remember, too, nutrition from a complete and balanced dog food is an important factor in supporting your dog’s healthy immune system. In fact, a dog’s immune system responds best to vaccination when a well-balanced, quality dog food containing appropriate levels of protein, energy, essential fatty acids and antioxidants is fed. If you have any questions about your dog’s nutritional needs, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.
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