By Sari Reis
With the flu epidemic on the rise across the Unites States, several clients have asked me if their dogs can get the flu. The answer is yes; but not from their human companion, but from other dogs, and just like us, it is highly contagious.
Canine influenza, commonly referred to as H3N8, among experts, is believed to be a mutation from an equine influenza. It first showed up in the U.S. in a group of racing greyhounds in 2004. Although it started out in only six states, it has since been diagnosed in dogs in 46 states.
Canine flu spreads voraciously with 80 percent of dogs exposed becoming infected. The most common symptoms of canine flu are coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge, runny discharge from the eyes, and sometimes fever and lethargy. Because of the coughing and sneezing, dogs who are in close proximity — such as in kennels, doggie day care, dog parks or dog shows — spread the flu from one dog to another very easily. Even drinking from the same water bowl or chewing on the same tennis ball can pass on the illness.
Unfortunately, symptoms may not show up for two to three days after a dog has been exposed, so a dog owner can unknowingly take his infected dog to the park to play, and make a lot of other dogs sick.
The way it affects dogs is by attacking the airways causing an inflammatory response and infection that can last from one to three weeks. Diagnosis is generally done through a blood test but a more accurate method is analyzing nasal discharge.
Treatment is fairly limited as it is viral rather than bacterial so antibiotics will not work in this case unless there is a secondary bacterial infection. If the dog has a fever, NSAIDS can be helpful. Most important is keeping your dog away from other dogs and monitoring its intake of food and water. Hydration is important.
Canine influenza is rarely serious unless it turns into pneumonia. For that reason, it is important to have your dog checked out by the veterinarian if he starts coughing. Because it is a relatively new malady, most dogs are susceptible to it.
There are a couple of vaccinations available but most veterinarians are on the fence about vaccinating for it. The vaccine doesn’t actually prevent the illness but may make the symptoms less severe.
Dr. Patrick Carney, DVM, Ph.D. of the Community Practice Service at Cornell stated,” I am not a big proponent of using the canine influenza vaccine unless the patient is at high risk.”
By avoiding national dog shows, and doggie day care during outbreaks, you may be able to lessen the risk of exposure. Bottom line, if he coughs, take him to the vet.
— Sari Reis is a Certified Humane Education Specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting Services. For more information, you can contact her at 760-644-0289 or missionvalleypetsitting.com.