Canine Influenza: What does it mean for dog owners and their plans? Back »

A spring 2015 outbreak of Canine Influenza in the Chicago area has caught the attention of veterinarians throughout the nation.

Reports of a new strain of influenza in dogs have raised the attention of dog owners everywhere. In the spring of 2015, dogs in the Chicago area were diagnosed with this virus. Since that outbreak, the virus has been detected elsewhere throughout the country.

This H3N2 canine influenza virus is different from the previously-known H3N8 strain of canine influenza. It is closely related to strains that were known to infect dogs in certain parts of Asia (it’s still unclear how the virus came to the United States). To date, neither of these influenza viruses has been implicated in illnesses of dogs in South Dakota. In addition, they have not been shown to infect people or other animal species.

Canine Influenza: Disease profile & symptoms

Like most flu viruses, this germ is typically picked up by dogs when they breathe in viruses expelled from an infected dog. The dogs usually have to be fairly close to each other for this to happen, but the virus could also live a short time (hours) in the environment of the infected dog, to be picked up later. Dogs can transmit the virus to others even when they’re not showing signs of illness.

Once inside the body, the virus infects the dog’s respiratory tract. Therefore, the signs of infection are coughing, runny nose, tiredness, and fever. In most cases, with good supportive care, the signs of infection resolve gradually over 2-4 weeks. In a few severe cases, the initial influenza infection can be complicated by a bacterial infection, resulting in pneumonia. Oftentimes, however, the infection is mild and may not even be noticed by the owner.

Protecting your pet and family

There is a vaccine available for the existing H3N8 canine influenza, but it’s unknown whether it protects against this new strain. Most influenza vaccines – for animals as well as people – need to be specifically targeted to the particular strain and don’t protect well against strains that aren’t in the vaccine.

It’s good for dog owners to be aware of this virus and to ask themselves what implications it might have for their dogs’ activities: obedience trainings, agility contests, dog shows, boarding kennels, or dog parks. So far, there are no indications that any drastic changes should be made in dog owners’ plans in light of canine influenza.

However, the emergence of canine influenza should serve as a good reminder to dog owners on a few different fronts. First, one should always pay close attention to the health of their dog. If the dog is coughing, has a runny nose (which they’ll keep clean by constantly licking their nose), or is unexpectedly tired or lethargic, it’s best to keep that dog home from activities with other dogs. The dog’s veterinarian should be consulted if these signs persist. Dogs should be kept up to date on shots and parasite treatments: a dog that’s healthy otherwise can do a better job of fighting off infections like the flu.

Dog show & event considerations

Organizers of dog events and activities should emphasize to their participants that they should leave their dogs home if the dog is coughing or showing other signs of illness (a good practice regardless of whether one is worried about canine influenza or not). Requiring influenza vaccinations of participants is not warranted since little is known whether the current vaccine will protect against this strain of influenza. As such, many veterinarians do not stock the vaccine. Requiring tests for dogs prior to entry is problematic also. Current tests only detect the virus itself, which does not stay in dogs longer than 2 to 4 days after the initial infection. Dog event organizers should have a close relationship with a local veterinarian, who can give advice on individual situations when they arise.

More Information

The best source for your questions about canine influenza is your veterinarian, but the AVMA Canine Influenza FAQ website is a good source of information as well.

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