The Truth about Canine Flu

News about the Canine Influenza is causing concern among dog owners. We thought we would share some facts about the “flu” because knowledge is key to keeping our dogs safe. While the flu should not be taken lightly, it important to understand that most dogs will recover within a few weeks with proper veterinary care. Because the canine flu spreads much like any other virus, dogs can be exposed even if they do not go to dog parks, boarding facilities or other dog-populated locations. The important thing to remember is to always keep an eye on your dog and know what is normal and what is not. When something doesn’t seem right, seek veterinary help as it’s always better to play it safe.

As of this posting, Crossroads has not seen or heard of any cases of influenza. To keep all dogs safe, if you suspect your dog is not feeling well or is displaying ANY signs of any illness, please see your vet before exposing your dog to other dogs.

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The H3N8 strain of canine influenza was first recognized in 2004 and since then it has been reported in 30 states. The recent outbreak of more than 1,000 dogs in Chicago was a result of the H3N2 strain which until this year, had been limited to Asia. Infections are now reportedly emerging in other states, including California.

Because this is still an emerging pathogen, all dogs, regardless of breed or age, are susceptible to infection and have no naturally acquired or vaccine-induced immunity when first exposed to the virus. The incubation period is usually two to four days from exposure to onset of clinical signs. The highest amounts of viral shedding occur during this time; therefore, dogs are most contagious during this 2-4 day incubation period when they are not exhibiting signs of illness. Virus shedding decreases dramatically during the first 4 days of illness but may continue up to 7 days in most dogs and up to 10 days in some dogs.

Virtually all dogs that are exposed become infected with the virus, but approximately 80% develop clinical signs of disease. The approximately 20% of infected dogs that do not exhibit clinical signs of disease can still shed the virus and can spread the infection.

Nevertheless, the H3N2 canine flu — not to be confused with the seasonal H3N2 human flu that sickened so many people last winter — is not a cause for panic, experts say.The American Veterinary Medical Assn. reports that dogs that are sickened by canine flu fall into two categories: those with a mild form (causing coughing, lethargy and sometimes a nasal discharge) and those with a more severe version accompanied by high fevers and pneumonia. “It’s the entire range, just like in people,” said Dr. Polina Vishkautsan, a UC Davis veterinarian. As for all viral diseases, treatment is largely supportive. Good husbandry and nutrition may assist dogs in mounting an effective immune response. Dogs that do get sick from canine flu can be treated with supportive care including antibiotics for secondary infections or fever-reducing medications, and most get better within two to three weeks. Fewer than 10% of dogs confirmed to have canine flu die as a result of the infection, the CDC says.

Early treatment is key. If you notice any change in your dog’s behavior, seek veterinary help, especially if your dog has been around other dogs, whether at a dog park, boarding or daycare facility, or even the veterinarian’s office.

In terms of prevention, there are currently two H3N8 CIV vaccines available however there is no U.S. commercial vaccine for the H3N2 strain of canine influenza virus, and it is unknown whether the H3N8 vaccines will provide any cross-protection against H3N2.

The canine H3N8 vaccine is intended as an aid in the control of disease associated with canine influenza virus infection. Although the vaccine may not prevent H3N8 infection altogether, it may significantly reduce the severity and duration of the illness, including the incidence and severity of damage to the lungs. In addition, the vaccine reduces the amount of virus shed and shortens the shedding interval; therefore, vaccinated dogs that become infected develop less severe illness and are less likely to spread the virus to other dogs. These benefits are similar to those provided by influenza vaccines used in other species, including humans.

The canine influenza vaccine is a “lifestyle” vaccine, and is not recommended for every dog. In general, the vaccine is intended for the protection of dogs at risk for exposure to the canine influenza virus, which include those that either participate in activities with many other dogs or are housed in communal facilities, particularly where the virus is prevalent. Dogs that may benefit from canine influenza vaccination include those that receive the kennel cough (Bordetella/parainfluenza) vaccine, because the risk groups are similar. Dog owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine whether their dog’s lifestyle includes risks for exposure to the canine influenza virus, and if vaccination is appropriate for their dog.

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