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Dog flu (canine influenza) season never ends
With summer winding down, we can expect a flood of “flu season” commercials, drug store marquees touting antihistamines and decongestants, and supermarket tent signs inviting you to “get your flu shot here.”
The flu is as dreaded as “allergy season" because it impacts our health, productivity, and leisure time.
If dog flu (canine influenza) has a season, it’s pretty much over now in the northern hemisphere, although the poor fur kids are susceptible to it all year, depending on how much they’re around other dogs.
More cases of dog flu are seen between St. Patrick’s Day and Labor Day, though, probably because dogs travel more.
The show circuit is most active then, along with a schedule of competitive events such as agility, flyball and dock diving.
They also spend more time at dog parks, camp grounds and other places families go for recreation or vacation.
Traveling far and wide with its canine host, canine influenza can easily spread over long distances.
The common thread here is that a lot of dogs are gathered in one spot. But it doesn't always have to be at a gathering for dogs to contract the virus.
Daycare, groomers and other sites where dogs go also offer the potential for dog flu outbreaks.
Dog flu defined
Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that, although seldom fatal, can cause serious, even life-threatening cases of pneumonia in untreated animals.
And, dogs can spread the disease before they show clinical symptoms themselves.
They came from another...animal
Flu viruses are quick change artists, able to morph into new strains that affect different species.
Presently, two strains of dog flu have been identified in the United States, and both started out as common to other species’ but mutated to infect dogs and, in one of the strains, cats as well.
We were introduced to the Canine H3N8 influenza virus in 2004 when it spread among racing greyhounds in Florida.
Since then, the strain has been reported in most states and the District of Columbia. It is believed that the virus mutated from an equine H3N8 strain.
We first saw the H3N2 strain in March of 2015 during an outbreak among dogs in the Chicago area. Before that it had been restricted to Asia, where it was identified in 2006.
Scientists think that, in view of the active live-bird market there, this strain actually mutated from an avian strain.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org), the virus can remain viable (alive and able to infect) on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours.
So in addition to being spread by droplets released through sneezing, coughing and barking, the virus can be spread on objects such as collars and leashes, crates and carriers, bowls, and our own skin and clothing.
Can dog flu spread to other species'?
While there’s no evidence that either strain can be spread to humans, the H3N2 strain was reported in a group of shelter cats in Indiana in 2016.
The AVMA says that the majority of dogs exhibit the mild form of dog flu.
Symptoms include a cough similar to kennel cough, that can be moist or dry, and that persists for 10 to 21 days despite treatment, discharge from the nose and eyes, sneezing, lethargy and loss of appetite.
Many dogs develop a fever, which for them is 104 to105 degrees Fahrenheit.
As always, prevention is the key. There are vaccines available for each of the canine strains and a single vaccine that protects against both strains. At present, there are no vaccines cleared for use in cats.
Vaccination alone isn’t enough, though. Pet owners should follow the example of their own veterinary hospital and adopt a program of strict sanitation practices. It’s important to instruct kids on the importance of practicing good sanitation, too.
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/Pages/Canine-Influenza-Backgrounder.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/canineflu/keyfacts.htm
© 2017 Bob Bamberg