An Unwelcome Arrival: The Canine Flu Outbreak and What it Means for Your Pet

canine fluJust when you thought you were prepared for the summer and had all your pet safety needs covered, here comes the dog flu. And not just any flu – this one is referred to using the unsettling terms “epidemic” and “outbreak.” So what exactly is canine flu and how can you be better prepared for its arrival?

Canine Influenza Virus (CIV)

Much like kennel cough, distemper, and other infectious diseases, canine influenza virus (CIV) is an upper respiratory infection that is spread through contact with unvaccinated pets. Most commonly, this is through mucous membrane droplets from an infected animal, but pets can also be exposed through items like water bowls, bedding, and even people (which is why you should wash your hands after petting other animals).

CIV has been around for a while; the first strain, H3N8, emerged in 2004 in Florida after a type of equine virus mutated and infected a group of racing greyhounds. The latest strain, H3N2, was introduced to the United States in early 2015 in the Chicago area. Because this strain is relatively new, most dogs who are exposed to the virus become ill, which is why it’s spreading so rapidly.

Although CIV can sometimes be confused with Bordetella (kennel cough), its symptoms are often more severe:

  • Fever (sometimes high fever)
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Coughing/sneezing
  • Nasal and/or eye discharge
  • Difficulty breathing

Canine flu can also develop into pneumonia or cause dangerously high fevers (especially in senior pets, puppies/kittens, and pets with co-occurring health problems or infections). It’s important to bring your pet in right away if he or she is symptomatic.

Treatment of Canine Flu

In most cases, once your pet is diagnosed, treatment will be supportive – isolating your pet from other animals, encouraging hydration and plenty of rest, antibiotics if there are secondary infections, and careful monitoring. In mild cases, the illness runs its course within 10 days to two weeks.

Some pets may require hospitalization, but this is usually in cases of coinciding illnesses, infections, pneumonia, and other more serious conditions.

Prevention

Thankfully, we now have a vaccine specific to H3N2 (as well as H3N8). The vaccine is given in two doses, three weeks apart. It’s crucial that your pet receive both. Because dogs who are at risk of exposure to CIV are equally at risk of Bordetella, we also recommend this vaccination.

Other ways to minimize risk include:

  • Avoid places where dogs are present, such as kennels, daycares, grooming salons, dog parks, and pet supply stores.
  • Maintain your pet’s wellness checkups, and notify your veterinarian of any changes in health or energy.
  • Prevent your pet from investigating pet waste or drinking out of communal water bowls (bring your pet’s own water and bowl when away from home).
  • Stay up-to-date on current outbreaks and information about the virus.

While canine flu isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, you can definitely help prevent its spread by being proactive. Please call the team at Leon Valley with any questions or to have your pet vaccinated.

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