by Gigi McWhirter
While we haven’t had an outbreak of dog flu in our area, it is important to be ready in case it happens. With more and more visitors arriving, often bringing their pets from communities affected by it, so increases the odds of an outbreak.
Canine influenza virus, also known as the dog flu, is an infectious respiratory disease caused by an influenza A virus, much like the strains that cause the flu in humans. The U.S. has two known strains: H3N8 and H3N2.
The H3N8 strain was first seen in horses. Around 2004, the virus transferred to several greyhounds at a Florida racing track and became a canine influenza virus. The other strain, H3N2, originated in Asia and is thought to have been transferred from birds to dogs. This virus was responsible for the flu outbreaks that hit the Midwest in 2015 and 2016 and has continued to make its way around the U.S.
How Canine Influenza Spreads
Just like the flu people get, the canine flu is an airborne-spread disease. The stuff that flies from the body during a sneeze, a cough, barking or sniffing are inhaled by another dog where it settles in the new canine host. Contaminated objects such as dog bowls and collars can help share the wealth. If your dog goes to a boarding facility, doggy park, veterinarian’s office, groomer, or has contact with a person who has been around an infected dog, it can pick up the virus. Even more nerve-wracking is that dogs are the most contagious during the incubation period and before symptoms appear.
It is believed that almost every dog that comes in contact with the virus will contract it. While not every dog will show symptoms, they will still be carriers and can spread the disease. The incubation period is about two to four days from the first exposure. Shedding of the virus begins to lessen after the fourth day, but the H3N8 can remain contagious for up to 10 days post exposure. Those carrying H3N2 will be contagious for up to 26 days.
Veterinarians usually recommend keeping your dog isolated for at least 21 days to help lower the risk of passing it on. It is essential that you discuss proper quarantine techniques with your veterinarian, not Dr. Google.
Symptoms to Watch For
Dog flu is not a seasonal disease and can occur anytime of the year. Cases can range from mild to severe. Symptoms to be aware of include:
- Coughing (moist and dry)
- Nasal discharge (clear and or pus-like)
- Respiratory distress
These symptoms are very similar to kennel cough. If you notice any of these, please make an appointment to see your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and to develop a treatment plan for your dog that includes ways to lessen the chance of spreading it. Because there is no cure for the dog flu, the vet may treat the symptoms and offer suggestions on how to keep your pet comfortable during the illness and recovery process.
Avoiding Canine Flu
“Prevention is worth an ounce of cure,” is the mantra to halt the spread of contagious diseases. There are now vaccines available for both strains of the canine flu. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccine options and other pet health-related concerns. If you are traveling with your dog or boarding him where there are other dogs, consider having him vaccinated.