In my recent interview with Dr. Natalie Marks I learned how extremely contagious and dangerous the canine influenza virus (CIV), or more commonly know as the dog flu, is.
What is Dog Flu — is your Dog at Risk?
Canine influenza virus or dog flu, is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs. There are two strains of the canine influenza virus, H3N2 and H3N8. H3N8, which is of equine origin, was first diagnosed in 2004 when it spread through the greyhound racing industry. H3N2, which is of avian origin, emerged in Asia in 2006. It first appeared in the U.S. in 2015. Both virus are diseases of dogs, not humans.
It’s important to know about the two strains and where they are active in order to protect your dog from becoming sick. The signs of this illness in dogs are cough, runny nose and fever, however, a small proportion of dogs can develop more severe symptoms. The canine influenza virus is extremely contagious as the H3N2 and H3N8 strains are relatively new viruses making nearly all dogs susceptible to the disease because they haven’t built up a natural immunity. The respiratory infection in dogs is one of the causes of Canine Infectious Disease Complex (CIRDC) also called “Canine Cough” or “Kennel Cough.” .
In March 2015 the H3N2 version spread quickly through Chicago shelters such as The Anti-Cruelty Society and Chicago Animal Care and Control. Dog boarding businesses shut down, while pet owners stayed away from dog parks and other areas where dogs socialized. Deemed endemic as of December 2015 in Chicago, meaning the virus remains in the area, on February 6, 2017, Anti-Cruelty discovered several cases of the virus in separate locations throughout their shelter. This required the shelter to halt dog adoptions again.
At the time of my interview with Dr. Marks there were 70 cases of the dog flu at Anti-Cruelty and possibly a few at Chicago Animal Care and Control. The number of cases treated by a private veterinarians isn’t known. As of June 2016, 30 states saw cases of the H3N2 virus, with Georgia having the highest number of cases after Chicago.
Dog flu is a threat to ALL dogs. Just like the human flu is contagious among humans, canine influenza is highly contagious among dogs. Every dog exposed to the virus will get sick, unless it’s built an immunity by having the illness already and recovered.
Dog Flu Symptoms and Treatment
The H3N2 strain in 2015 caused a very strong viral form of flu symptoms like the common cold with high fever, vomiting, and lethargy. It can lead to viral pneumonia which is difficult to treat and deadly so immediate treatment is vital.
If you suspect that your dog has the flu it should be isolated immediately, informing your veterinarian so that proper treatment can begin. When arriving at your vet don’t be alarmed if you have to keep the dog in the car or it’s taken into an isolation room only used for suspected cases of the dog flu. Veterinarian personnel will wear protective clothing so as not to carry the disease elsewhere, or even home. Swabs of the dog’s nose is taken but getting a positive diagnosis is difficult as you may get a positive on the first day, then a negative on the third day.
Dogs that develop a more serious form of the canine flu may require hospitalization for administration of intravenous fluids, supplemental feeding, and more. Dogs that develop pneumonia may require antibiotics for a secondary bacterial infection. Consult your veterinarian and discuss any questions or concerns you have about treatment while being sure to understand instructions for home care of your dog. It’s also important to keep you dog at home for several weeks and try to avoid exposing it to other dogs.
The Canine Vaccination for the Dog Flu
The only way to prevent your dog from getting the dog flu is with a new, effective and safe vaccine from Merck called Nobivac® Canine Flu H3N8. It’s shown to control the spread of infection and minimize symptoms. Recently though, the Canine Influenza Vaccine H3N2 was launched with effectiveness against symptoms, and safe. This vaccine aids in controlling the H3N2 virus, since the two viruses aren’t related dogs at risk should be vaccinated against both strains. But, now Merck also has the Nobivac Canine Flu Bivalent vaccine to prevent against both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains. These vaccinations may not completely prevent the dog flu, but just like our human vaccines, it can lesson the symptoms and duration of the illness.
Consult your veterinarian to find out if these vaccines are appropriate for your dog.
For more information on the canine influenza virus, or dog flu, please visit www.doginfluenza.com.
Dr. Natalie Marks has been a veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago since 2006 and a co-owner since 2012. Prior to 2006, Dr. Marks worked at a small animal practice just north of Atlanta, GA. She is a guest contributor in multiple media campaigns for Merck, Zoetis (formerly Pfizer), Boerhinger-Ingelheim and Royal Canin. Additionally, Dr. Marks has been published in Veterinary Medicine magazine, DVM magazine, and was a reporter for Veterinary News Network.