The mainstream media has had several feature articles and news stories about Canine Influenza and many clients have called us with questions. The following are some key points that I hope will provide useful information so readers will know what is best for their canine companions as it pertains to this infectious viral infection. Canine Influenza Virus (CIV), also know as dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection in dogs. Over the past several weeks, we began receiving reports of canine flu infections in the Atlanta area that were not the typical dog flu strain (H3N8) that has been reported and treated nationwide for several years. This new strain causing the 2015 outbreak in Georgia is the same strain that recently afflicted thousands of dogs in the Chicago area. It is almost genetically identical to the H3N2 strain previously reported only in Asia – specifically, Korea, China and Thailand.
Dogs that are infected will shed virus in body secretions regardless of whether or not they appear to be sick. Infected animals should be considered contagious for 14 days. Virus transmission can occur from virus aerosolized in cough and sneeze droplets or from virus on surfaces. The virus persists on toys, bowls, and other surfaces for several days but can be inactivated by cleaning with typical household disinfectants.
The symptoms caused by the new strain are like the earlier strain and are divided into mild and severe forms. Dogs suffering with the mild form of canine influenza may have a soft, moist or dry cough, lethargy or depressed attitude, reduced appetite, mild fever, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and/or nose, and thick nasal discharge usually caused by a secondary bacterial infection. If your pet has any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian. Dogs with the severe form have high fevers (104ºF to 106ºF), clinical signs of pneumonia such as increased respiratory rates and effort, and can die. Pets with severe symptoms need immediate veterinary care.
Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) is highly contagious. Virtually all unvaccinated dogs exposed to the virus become infected, and nearly 80% show clinical signs of disease, though most exhibit the mild form. CIV behaves in the same manner as the human flu virus, and similar measures should be taken to avoid it. Avoid contact with other dogs and places where dogs congregate such as boarding facilities, dog classes, grooming salons, dog parks and social events with other dogs present. Don’t allow your dog to drink from public water dishes. Dogs with compromised immune systems, puppies, older or pregnant dogs are particularly at risk. Again, it is important to visit your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any of these symptoms.
There is a CIV vaccine that protects against the more common H3N8 strain. It is not known if this current vaccine will provide any protection from this new H3N2-like strain.
Most CIV infections recover rather quickly with supportive care. Veterinarians typically prescribe medications such as antibiotics (to fight secondary infections) and/or a nonsteroidal anti‐inflammatory (to reduce fever, swelling and pain). Dehydrated pets need fluid therapy. Other medications, or hospitalization, may also be necessary for more severe cases.
There is no evidence that the more common CIV strain is transmissible to people or other animal species. However, this newer strain (H3N2-like) has been reported to infect cats, and there’s also some evidence that guinea pigs and ferrets can become infected.
I highly recommend that dogs at risk are vaccinated. Dogs at risk are pets that board, get groomed, and/or go to socialization events such as obedience classes, dog parks or other locations where dogs aggregate. The vaccine is safe and effective and is inexpensive.