Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is it Time to Worry About Dog Flu?

Dog owners are calling veterinary offices concerned with the news of the recent dog flu outbreak in the Midwest. Over 1000 dogs have become sick with the highly contagious Canine Influenza virus and 6 dogs have died to date.

Two strains of canine influenza, also known as The Dog Flu, have now been identified in the U.S. The original influenza virus identified in 2004 in racing greyhounds and was typed as H3N8. Dogs in the current Chicago outbreak were originally thought to have H3N8, but testing identified a different subtype H3N2. This strain of canine influenza hasn't yet been seen in the U.S., but was identified in Asia before.

What are dog flu symptoms?
Both canine influenza strains cause coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite and can cause a high fever. About 50-80% of infected dogs have mild kennel cough symptoms others may develop a severe illness. Some dogs exposed to the virus never go on to develop any symptoms.

Dogs with a mild form may recover within 10 to 30 days after typical kennel cough signs. Dogs with the severe form rapidly fall ill within 4- 6 hours and have very high fevers up to 104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Infected dogs may also develop secondary bacterial pneumonia. The death rate for severe cases is reported to be 5-8% but is typically <1%.  

Can dogs pass the infection to humans?
No, there isn’t any evidence that canine influenza is contagious to humans. The H3N2 form could potentially make cats sick.

How is canine influenza treated?
Any infected dog should be removed from dog activities and isolated. Mild cases are treated with cough suppressants, rest and supportive care. Antibiotics are reserved only for cases in which a secondary bacterial infection are suspected. Severe cases may require hospitalization, oxygen support, antibiotics, and IV fluids.

Should we worry in Las Vegas?
Fortunately Las Vegas has not yet seen dog flu cases impact our community. But we know that Canine Influenza has been diagnosed in 40 states so far, so the disease is around.

Too often Las Vegas pet owners have the “it doesn’t happen here” mentality when it comes to infectious disease. Perhaps we think we live in a bubble in Las Vegas, far away from high parasite burdened areas or heavy heartworm endemic areas of the country.  But all it takes is movement of influenza infected dogs from another state to bring Canine Influenza to an area.

What can dog owners do to prevent illness?
Vaccination for canine influenza should be considered for at risk dogs-those living or traveling in an area experiencing an outbreak, or those that participate in group dog activities, visiting dog shows, grooming salons, boarding facilities, or doggie day care.

Outbreaks of dog flu take hold when the virus infects naïve dogs. Naïve dogs are those that haven’t ever been exposed to the virus, or that haven’t been vaccinated for this virus. By vaccinating more dogs in our area for canine influenza, we can in essence “protect the herd” better.

Preventative recommendations vary depending upon whether the virus is actively being diagnosed in your community. Dogs in areas affected by an outbreak should be kept away from group dog locations like dog parks, day care, and boarding facilities while infected dogs recover and facilities can disinfect their premises.

Other common sense tips to prevent your dog from acquiring dog flu include avoiding contact with unknown dogs, washing your hands after petting or contacting other dogs, and avoiding shared water bowls or items in public areas.

But in areas not experiencing an outbreak, there is little basis for limiting your dog’s activities by keeping Fido in lockdown.  While there is always some inherent risk of infectious disease in any group dog activity, participating in these activities offers benefits of physical exercise, provides mental stimulation, builds confidence, and decreases boredom and destructive behaviors.

Until canine influenza is diagnosed in our area, I am continuing to let Boss run his agility class and Nikki play with her canine pals at doggie daycare.

Should we vaccinate?
Dog owners with at-risk dogs should consider vaccination. Vaccination for canine influenza doesn’t prevent dogs from becoming infected, but rather decreases the severity and duration of illness. The vaccine also causes an infected dog to shed less virus that could infect other dogs.

The current canine influenza vaccine protects against the H3N8 strain, and is unknown if this vaccine offers any cross-protection against the H3N2 form, although research is looking at this now. In any case, it’s reasonable to expect the H3N8 form will still be out there so vaccination is reasonable for at risk dogs.

For more information about Canine Influenza visit Dog Flu Info for Pet Owners | Canine Influenza News and Information or AVMA info on Canine Influenza

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