Serious news for all dog owners in recent weeks, folks: Canine influenza, or dog flu, has been documented both in San Francisco and the Bay Area and in Fresno. Up to 50 cases were diagnosed in the Bay Area in mid-January, with a confirmed case in Fresno announced Jan. 24.
This dog flu is highly contagious between dogs, with 80 percent of all exposed dogs becoming sick. Most of these dogs will be only mildly sick. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny eyes and noses. Some dogs whose respiratory system has been attacked by the flu virus will develop secondary bacterial infections and have thick purulent (pus) discharge from their nose and a very high fever. Occasionally even pneumonia can occur and in rare instances, death.
You’ve all probably heard of “kennel cough,” which is a generic name for a variety of viruses or bacterial infections that cause a cough contagious to other dogs. The actual cause of bronchitis can only be determined through tests. An oral cheek and eye tear swab can be sent to the lab for a PCR test (polymerase chain reaction – if you really want to know more on that kind of testing, please research!) When last checked, a PCR upper respiratory test in dogs looks for up to 13 different viruses and other agents, including both forms of the Canine Influenza, H3N8 and H3N2. Dogs in close contact easily spread the germs by coughing on each other – in a kennel, a grooming parlor, at a dog park, day care or shelter. Anywhere dogs meet. In addition the flu virus can be spread by contaminated objects like food or water dishes, collars and leashes.
Should your dog contract canine influenza you will need to see your veterinarian. Treatment is tailored to symptoms and whether secondary infections are a concern. All affected animals should be isolated from other pets for 1 month to prevent the spread of this disease.
Canine influenza first made headlines in 2004 when several racing Greyhounds dropped dead in Florida. This was the CI H3N8. It wasn’t until March 2015 that there was another crisis when an epidemic broke out in dogs in Chicago. This was a different form of CI, H3N2. They thought part of the reason for an outbreak in a big city had to do with large concentrations of dogs moving through airports. The dog flu has not been widespread and risk to pets in many parts of the U.S. has been low.
The dog flu H3N2 has been known to affect cats. One outbreak occurred in cats in a high-stress shelter environment. No cats are known to have died from the canine influenza viruses, and there is no approved vaccine for cats.
Canine influenza viruses have not been found to be transmissible to humans.
Should you like more information on the canine influenza viruses please look up the American Veterinary Medical Association article on-line. Your local veterinarian has information and protective vaccine available to your pet. This bivalent vaccine protects against both strains of dog flu. Two vaccinations are required to start, given approximately one month apart, and can be started as young as seven or eight weeks of age. Because it takes a month for your pet’s body to mount a complete immune response, and given the closeness geographically of the epidemic, we recommend all dog owners contact their veterinarian to start protection. Be aware that like the Bordetella vaccine (a better known “kennel cough”) and human “flu shots” even with proper vaccination your pet might contract a mild case. Many area clinics are offering the vaccination to their regular patients. Simply put, we want to protect your pets. We’re here for you.
Christine B. McFadden