What is canine influenza (the canine flu)?
The canine flu is caused by a respiratory virus; the two main strains in circulation being H3N8 and H3N2. The most recent strain causing the current outbreak is the H3N2 virus, which seems to have originated in the Chicago area around March of 2015. In the past year there have been confirmed cases of this new canine flu in Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston and Asheville. The old strain (H3N8) still exists and does circulate around the nation. Both strains of canine influenza are known to be highly contagious but do require relatively close contact to spread, for example through coughing and sneezing.
What are the signs and symptoms of canine influenza?
Signs of infection by the canine flu can range from lethargy, fever, respiratory signs (coughing, gagging, wheezing, difficulty breathing), decreased appetite and in some cases pneumonia. Unlike in cases of the human flu, the canine flu typically does not result in gastrointestinal problems. In very rare cases (usually dogs with compromised immune systems) death can result. In general, influenza infection is not necessarily distinguishable from “kennel cough” caused by other types of viruses. If a dog has any of the above symptoms, it is highly recommended and preferred that the pet owner inform the front desk before bringing their pet inside the front doors of any animal care facility or veterinary hospital to avoid possible contamination.
How is canine influenza treated?
In most mild cases, infection is addressed with symptomatic treatments such as prescription cough suppressants and antibiotics. In more severe cases and with high-risk patients, dogs may need to be hospitalized and require intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Should I have my dog vaccinated for canine influenza?
Patients that frequent areas where large numbers of dogs congregate, such as boarding and grooming facilities, pet stores, dog parks, day camp, or obedience classes are all at higher risk than those dogs that stay at home. Anywhere your dog may experience “nose to nose contact” could carry risk for infection. Dogs with other health conditions such as cardiovascular or respiratory diseases or those patients on drugs that suppress the immune system are also at greater risk of infection.
Will the “old” canine influenza vaccine (H3N8) protect against the “new” (H3N2) strain?
The H3N8 vaccine that has been offered in veterinary offices for years will not protect against the H3N2 virus. Bottom line: if it is appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle, it is best to protect your pet from both strains. We now carry the vaccine for the H3N2 virus. Please call our office with any further questions or to schedule an appointment to have your dog vaccinated today.