Do you remember the Great Canine Influenza Outbreak of 2015? Most of us outside the Chicagoland area were left unaffected but unfortunately Canine Influenza (CIV) seems to be causing quite a stir so far in 2016 with multiple local media outlets covering reports of cases in neighboring McLean county and even at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Unfortunately, this is an illness that is likely to continue to make headlines in the weeks to come. I hope to be able to place some of you at ease with some cold hard facts about precautionary measures you can take, and what to expect if your pet is suspected of being affected.
For starters, there are two different dog flu virus strains that the veterinary community is aware of: H3N8 (first reported in the U.S. in 2004, with a vaccine available since 2010) and H3N2. Vaccines are available for both strains of the virus. However similar to a human flu vaccine, having your pet vaccinated against either (or both) strains will not guarantee immunity to the virus but will likely reduce the clinical symptoms of the virus should your pet become infected.
CIV infection is a mild upper respiratory tract infection traditionally characterized by signs of lethargy, anorexia, low-grade fever, yellow or green nasal discharge, and wet cough. The majority of dogs impacted by this illness will recover with symptomatic care and no long-lasting effects. Few dogs with more severe disease may develop high fever, an increased respiratory rate, and even pneumonia.
If you believe your pet may be infected with canine influenza quick intervention will improve his/her chances for a good recovery. For those dogs that do contract canine influenza, the focus of treatment is to provide supportive care while the infection runs its course. Dogs with mild infection may not require any intervention. As stated previously, few dogs will develop a more serious course and may require hospitalization for administration of intravenous fluids, supplemental feeding, and other supportive measures. Those dogs that develop pneumonia may require antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection. Consult with the staff at SportsVet and discuss any questions or concerns you have about treatment. If your dog is suspected or confirmed of being infected with CIV it is important to keep him/her at home for 3-4 weeks so as to reduce risk of infection to other people’s pets.
Testing for Canine Influenza can be done by a veterinarian and this discussion can occur when your pet is first seen at the clinic. Testing requires either a blood sample to be drawn (with an additional sample 10-14 days later) or nasal swabs dependent on the duration of disease. It might take about 2 weeks for the results to return. In the meantime, your veterinarian can start appropriate treatment to make your dog more comfortable.
The big question many of you may be wondering is whether all this hysteria means you have to avoid all possible social locations like kennels, groomers, sporting events, and dog parks at all times? That doesn’t seem feasible, nor according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), is it required, unless there is an established outbreak like that encountered in the Chicagoland area last year. Here are some tips for managing these interactions in a way that will minimize the chances of your dog becoming infected.
- No greetings. There is a 2-4 day incubation period for canine influenza, and that perfectly healthy looking dog may be shedding the virus even though he isn’t coughing or sneezing. No greetings means no nose-to-nose, no saliva exchange, and no butt sniffing. Since the virus is exchanged through respiratory secretions, stay out of sneezing/coughing range or other pets when possible.
- Good hygiene is your friend. Wash your hands, wipe your shoes, and clean your surfaces, especially if you have contact with other dogs. CIV can be spread by direct contact with infected dogs, or via contact with contaminated objects. The virus can live on a surface for up to 48 hours. The good news is that a simple dilute bleach solution (The AVMA recommends 1 part bleach to 30 parts water) to effectively clean contaminated surfaces.
- To vaccinate or not? Canine flu shots are what we consider “lifestyle” vaccines. Perhaps you are familiar with another lifestyle vaccination: “kennel cough” (otherwise known as a Bordatella vaccine). Although not listed in the “core” vaccination requirements for pets, “lifestyle” vaccinations highly recommended for dogs who go to daycare, boarding, dog parks, or play groups. A single dog who rarely leaves the yard will be at considerably less risk for infection. Remember that the vaccination for H3N2 has only been available since November 2015, so if your dog was vaccinated prior to that, he will only have protection against H3N8.
The bottom line is to use the same train of thought that we as humans use during flu season. If you can limit exposure to areas where you are at increased risk of becoming ill please do so. However, we can’t live our lives in a bubble and we can’t expect our pets to do so either and therefore keeping the aforementioned precautions in mind will help to keep your pet as safe as possible.
For more information about canine influenza, contact your veterinarian. To read more about canine influenza, its history and how it’s treated, here are some online resources: