The dog flu virus (Influenza A subtype H3N8) was first discovered back in 2004 down in Florida with the racing Grey Hound dogs. This virus is highly contagious between dogs but so far there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from dogs to humans or other species. So far the dog flu virus has only been documented in 30 states, but it is likely present throughout the US and is considered endemic in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado. NOTE: I do remember recently reading somewhere that a human passed the flu virus to his animal (dog, cat)???
A shocking statistic - almost 100% of dogs will be infected after exposure to this virus. Within 2 to 4 days of exposure, 80% of dogs will develop signs of illness and the other 20% will remain asymptomatic, although they are still capable of spreading the virus. In all cases, dogs are most contagious before they start showing signs. This virus is similar to the human flu viruses. It is spread by respiratory secretions and contaminates food and water bowls, collars, leashes and bedding. From my research, the virus can stay alive on most surfaces for 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours and hands for 12 hours but is easily killed by common disinfectants (bleach, ammonium compounds).
How can you tell if your dog has the canine influenza? This virus causes acute respiratory infection in dogs. Most dogs will develop a mild respiratory infection which is characterized by a moist or dry cough that usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks despite treatment. They will have a cloudy or green nasal discharge and a low-grade fever. For more severe infections you might see pneumonia and a high fever. The death rate has been reported in 1 to 5% of dogs who are severely affected. Another thing that is important to remember is that unlike other flu viruses, canine influenza is not seasonal and occurs year round. Wow…..that blew me away! Year round?! Many times dogs with canine influenza are often misdiagnosed with kennel cough as the signs are usually identical. For this reason, canine influenza cannot be diagnosed only on clinical signs. That is why it is imperative to have a blood test done which identifies antibodies to the virus as early as 7 days after symptoms start. In order to confirm the infection, another blood sample should be taken about 2 weeks later. There are other tests that your veterinarian may recommend as well.
Secondary bacterial infections are common and many dogs require broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy. As with all viral infections, the treatment for canine influenza is to use good preventative measures. Excellent hygiene and natural nutrition can help dogs mount an immune response and recover within 2 to 3 weeks.
If your dog starts to show signs of the canine flu, keep your dog at home, away from other dogs and dog owners. Your dog should not be brought to parks or handling and obedience classes where other dogs are present. He should not be boarded or groomed. And common sense will tell you, that he should not be brought to a dog show. In fact, they should be isolated from other dogs for 2 weeks to prevent spread of disease.
You should also take preventative measures if you have other dogs. Wash your hands frequently and change your clothes before handling or being around your other dogs to reduce the risk of spread. Always disinfect the surfaces of your home and car or van that your dog has come in contact with before you let your other dogs in these areas.
There is no cure for the flu but if you suspect your dog has come in contact with a sick dog, take him to the vet to have him tested for the flu and where he can offer treatment.
In May 2009, the USDA approved the first canine influenza vaccine. Like the human flu shot, the vaccine may not completely prevent infection but vaccinated dogs will develop less severe illness and are less likely to spread the virus to other dogs. My research says that the vaccine is not recommended for every dog—only those dogs with an "at-risk" lifestyle. This includes dogs that are boarded or kenneled frequently, go to the groomer routinely, are housed with other dogs, or have frequent dog contact (Dog Park, doggy daycare, dog shows, dog handling classes, etc). The best thing to do is ask your veterinarian if the canine flu vaccine is right for your dog.
I personally have never seen so many new illnesses as I have in recent years both in our canine friends and humans as well. Just look back at when you were growing up. Pets were lucky if they ever went to the vet in their lifetime and many lived over 16 years of age. It must be something in the water…..or food!?
My rating: dog flu shot where necessary: (4)