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Canine Influenza

AAHH-Chew! Hack, hack, cough, cough. “I don’t feel so good” says your dog, as if they can speak. But we as pet parents know when they are feeling “off”. Maybe, they have a fever, are acting lethargic, are having some eye or nose discharge. Possibly their appetite is down, and for some dogs when this occurs we know they are sick, like my lab. If he is not woofing his food something is wrong.

So what are these symptoms of? Your furry friend may be suffering from many upper respiratory diseases like “kennel cough”, but it may also be “dog flu” or canine influenza virus (CIV). Many of us have heard or read about the recent outbreak in the Chicago area where thousands of dogs were suffering from the flu and some deaths even occurred. Who would have predicted this?

The puzzling question about this particular dog flu is that it has not been seen in the US until this recent outbreak in 2015. While the CIV strain of H3N8 strain has been noted in the US since 2004, this “new” H3N2 CIV strain was the cause of the Chicago outbreak which is now moving westward with confirmed cases reported in Wisconsin and Iowa. There are likely to be more cases than those confirmed since in some dogs the symptoms are mild and may not have been treated or tested. However, these dogs can still be contagious and spread the virus. It is thought that somehow this H3N2 strain came from Korea, but only speculation as to how it arrived on US soil.

This virus is contagious in nature and the dogs that are at greatest risks are those that frequent dog parks, boarding facilities, grooming parlors, show dogs, or dog that attend other social type events. Because our population of dogs have not been exposed to this virus they are at higher risk of contracting the “flu”. Symptoms can be very mild (almost undetected) and short lived, to more severe, including breathing problems, secondary pneumonia’s, and even death as in a few cases in the Chicago area.

If your canine friend is exhibiting these upper respiratory symptoms have them checked out by your veterinarian. Better safe than sorry, right? Sooner is better than later as well. You can also decrease the risk of exposure by obviously limiting your pet’s exposure to other dog’s exhibiting symptoms. The Flu virus is not overly stable in the environment for more than 48 hours and common disinfectants are usually effective in killing the virus. Good hygiene and sanitation should be practiced through hand washing, and cleaning shared items such as food and water bowls. If possible maybe even a dog sitter at home is an option rather than kenneling.

We also have vaccines available for the H3N8 strain of CIV. This particular vaccine has been available for several years but is not considered a core vaccine and administered to those dogs that are determined to be at risk. There currently is no vaccine for this “newer” CIV H3N2 strain, however there is still some question whether or not the H3N8 vaccine provides some cross protection. While a vaccine may not completely protect your dog from infection it may reduce the symptoms and decrease the recovery time, along with reducing shedding time of the virus thereby making them less contagious to other dogs.

We can’t contract this flu from our canine companions although there is some evidence that our cats may be susceptible to the H3N2 strain. So, continue to play, love, and enjoy your furry canine and feline companions and if they are going AAHH-CHEW, and acting “off”, call your vet. Have a candid discussion about the use of influenza vaccines and if they are determined to be at risk, have them immunized. We all want to be great pet parents and keep our furry family members healthy.

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