The Dog Flu . . . How worried should I be?
By Ashley Atkin, DVM

Many of you have heard of the Canine Influenza outbreak in the Chicago area and have been wondering what you should do to protect your furry, four-legged family member. Hopefully, you find the following information and web links helpful.

Canine Influenza – what is it?

Canine Influenza (aka Dog Flu) is a highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs caused by an influenza A virus. Two strains of this virus have been identified in the United States. In the 2005 outbreak, the H3N8 strain was identified (and a vaccine was developed). Most recently, the outbreak in Chicago was caused by a different strain, H3N2.

What are the symptoms?

Dogs can develop either the mild or severe form of the disease — most dogs develop the Mild Form.

• Mild Form –Symptoms include a soft & moist cough, lethargy, decrease appetite, sneezing, eye discharge, and sometimes fever. They can develop mild secondary bacterial infections causing a harsher cough and/or thick nasal discharge.

• Severe Form –Symptoms include very high fevers and symptoms of pneumonia (increased respiratory rate & effort), also usually due to a secondary bacterial infection. Most dogs that developed the severe form were shelter dogs and racing greyhounds because they are housed in close proximity and they have a higher stress level.

Most dogs will recover from Canine Influenza in 2-3 weeks. A few cases of death have been reported, although this is less than 10% of dogs with the severe form.

How does my dog get it?

Canine Influenza is spread by direct contact with infected respiratory secretions (ie nose to nose contact) or by contact with inanimate objects exposed to infected respiratory secretions (ie toys, blankets, water dishes).

Just like many other infectious diseases, dogs that are in contact with other dogs (especially in close proximity) are at higher risk of contracting Canine Influenza. Places such as dog parks, boarding facilities, groomers, and pet stores can be higher risk areas. As with the human flu, the very young or very old are also at increased risk. It is rare that a healthy, adult pet dog with develop the severe form of this virus.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no rapid test for Canine Influenza. Currently there are nasal/throat swab tests or blood tests that must be sent to a lab.

What is the treatment?

Just like with a human cold or flu, treatment is mostly supportive. Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed for secondary bacterial infections and/or Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory (NSAID) for fever reduction.

Dogs that are dehydrated or have the severe form of the disease, may need to be hospitalized on IV fluids and IV medication for treatment.

Can I catch Canine Influenza? Can the other pets in my house catch Canine Influenza?

Currently there is no evidence of transmission of Canine Influenza virus from dogs to people.

The H3N2 strain has been reported to infect cats – more information is being gathered.

The H3N8 strain has NOT been reported to infect cats, horses, ferrets, or other animal species.

Is there a vaccine? Is it safe? Is it effective? Should I get it for my dog?

In 2009, a vaccine was developed to prevent against the H3N8 strain. However, there is no evidence that this vaccine provides any protection against the H3N2 strain (the cause of the current outbreak).

Currently only “at risk” dogs are recommended to receive the vaccine. These are dogs living near or traveling to areas where there is a current outbreak (ie Chicago) or may be in contact with these types of dogs (ie dog shows, racing greyhounds etc).

Given the above information and recommendations from the veterinary community, at this time, the doctors at Bollinger Canyon Animal Hospital do not recommend the vaccine to our patients. If you feel your dog falls into the “at risk” category, please contact our office to discuss it further.

Where can I get more information?

American Veterinary Medical Association – www.AVMA.org

Veterinary Information Network/Veterinary Partner – www. VeterinaryPartner.com

Centers for Disease Control – www.cdc.gov/flu/canine/index.htm