K9 Corner: Dog flu

BY HELEN PALMER

I try not to be an alarmist, so I often will hold off “spreading the news” until I am certain of its importance.  Yes, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts out warnings as well as the American Kennel Club news alerts, it is time to spread the word.

The alarm being broadcast concerns canine influenza or also known as dog flu. In the beginning I read about the H3N8 virus, and then suddenly I noticed the virus nomenclature as H3N2. Now in the latest CDC websites, both viruses are mentioned.

If your dog is a “stay-at-home” pooch and gets its exercise in its own backyard with no contact with other dogs, then there is little to worry about. However, the strains of the current dog flu viruses are highly contagious and need veterinary care to prevent an extended illness or even death.

Dog flu is a contagious respiratory disease caused by Type A influenza viruses. Fortunately there has been no sign of cross-contamination with humans, though influenza viruses are constantly changing, so it is possible that sometime in the future one or both of these viruses could mutate and be able to infect humans.

The H3N8 virus originated in horses. It spread to dogs and now can spread from dog to dog. The H3N8 equine influenza has been around for over 40 years. In 2004 cases of an unknown respiratory illness in dogs were reported in the United States. The equine virus has now adapted and is identified as a “newly emerging pathogen in the dog population.”

The H3N2 canine influenza virus is an avian flu virus that has adapted to infect dogs. This virus is different from human seasonal H3N2 virus.

The symptoms for these diseases include: cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and lack of appetite.  “The severity of illness associated with dog flu can range from no signs at all to severe illness resulting in pneumonia and sometimes death.”

The prognosis following treatment is that most dogs recover within two to three weeks, however, some dogs may develop secondary bacterial infections that may lead to more severe illness and pneumonia. Fortunately the CDC has few reports of dogs dying from the infection, but do have reports on severe illness characterized by pneumonia.

Almost all dogs are susceptible to this disease and it is spread easily among dogs housed in kennels and shelters through respiratory secretions from coughing and sneezing. It can be transmitted at dog parks and dog shows since the virus is also spread from clothing, equipment, surfaces and hands, therefore these items should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease.

Treatment consists of supportive care: isolation, rest and cough suppressants for mild cases; with severe cases requiring a broad spectrum of antibiotics, fluids, hospitalization and isolation until the dog is stable.

There is a vaccine available, however the CDC advises to speak to your veterinarian about the need.

Reference: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/canineflu/keyfacts.htm