Find yourself fearing the flu? Canine Influenza is a hot topic right now. We’ve taken some complicated science and distilled it into just what you need to know to keep your pets healthy and happy.
Part 1: What’s going on? How worried should I be about Canine Flu?
In March of this year the Chicago area experienced an outbreak of respiratory disease in dogs. Major Universities and laboratories worked together and isolated a virus new to the United States – Canine Influenza – H3N2.
H3N2 was first discovered in Asia in 2006. This particular virus originated in birds.
Some clients are confusing the current flu outbreak with one that started in greyhound racing kennels in 2004. The virus responsible for that outbreak was H3N8, originally isolated in horses. There are still a few active “pockets” of H3N8 in the US, but they are confined to Southern California, Texas, and New York.
While the H3N2 virus was initially being seen primarily in Chicago, it spread to the Atlanta area, and has now been confirmed in 17 states, including North Carolina. The recent local media coverage of Canine Influenza hit our area when one dog tested positive in Asheville. Additionally, the Regional Animal Emergency Hospital in Asheville reported that 12 dogs were seen this past weekend for coughing and fever.
To put this in perspective…although more than 1,000 dogs have been reported sick in the Chicago area, to date, 304 have tested positive for the H3N2 flu virus. In the greater Atlanta area, 183 dogs have tested positive for H3N2. These are relatively small numbers considering the pet populations in these major metropolitan areas.
Part 2: Is there an effective vaccine against Canine Flu?
Ever get your yearly flu vaccine and then find out there’s a different strain going around? That’s exactly what’s happening to our canine friends with this outbreak.
There is a flu vaccine that is effective in preventing or minimizing the symptoms of Canine Influenza H3N8 strain. However, the vaccine for H3N8 has not yet been shown to be effective in preventing the H3N2 strain that’s responsible for the current outbreak.
There is a little good news though. The company that manufactures the H3N8 vaccine has issued a guarantee to cover up to $5,000 in approved health care costs in dogs who become ill despite receiving properly administered flu vaccination. (The manufacturer, Merck Animal Health, does reserve the right to amend that guarantee if it becomes clear that the H3N8 vaccine affords no benefit against the H3N2 virus.)
Part 3: What should you do? Should you keep your dog at home to protect him?
No, there’s no reason to hide at home with your dog. We have not confirmed any cases of Canine Influenza in the Franklin area. We will be providing Canine Influenza vaccines for those of you who are hoping to provide your K-9 kids some protection…or at least be eligible for the vaccine guarantee…should we have an outbreak in Franklin.
What are the symptoms of Canine Influenza? Is it fatal?
Patients present with symptoms similar to kennel cough, but sicker. Fever and coughing are the primary signs, followed by loss of appetite. Just like us, treatment for the flu involves supportive care. If sick pets don’t receive supportive care, symptoms can worsen and develop into pneumonia. Canine Influenza is rarely fatal, but again like us, patients with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable.
How quickly do dogs get sick?
Very quickly, usually 1-3 days after exposure to this new virus. Early evidence suggests this virus may still be contagious for 2-3 weeks after symptoms develop in dogs who contract the flu.
Can Canine Influenza be transmitted to humans?
No. The disease is highly contagious between dogs and is spread in the same way we spread the flu to each other – through the air (sneezing) and by touching infected surfaces. There has also been a single case of H3N2 confirmed spread to a feline in New York, but this is very unusual.
How are the vaccines administered?
The vaccine is an injection, and the very first vaccine must be followed with a “booster” in three weeks. The cost will be $25 per vaccine…or $50 for a year’s worth of protection.
What should you do if your dog develops a cough?
Call our office to schedule an appointment. Be sure to let us know that your pet has symptoms of the flu. There is comprehensive laboratory test available to diagnose what’s causing the respiratory symptoms. To reduce any potential risk to other patients, your pet will be kept out of common areas until we rule out the H3N2 flu virus.