There has been close to an epidemic outbreak in canine influenza recently. It has been centered in Chicago, IL with over 1,000 cases being reported and currently 5 deaths associated with the disease since the middle of March. Previous outbreaks in the U.S. have been caused by the H3N8 virus but the most recent outbreak is due to the Asian dog flu H3N2 strain which had only been seen in Korea, China and Thailand until now.
- What is canine influenza? Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs. Because this is a new strain in the U.S., almost all dogs are susceptible and have no immunity. Nearly all dogs exposed to the virus will become infected and 80% will show signs. The H3N2 strain can affect cats as well.
- What are the symptoms? Canine influenza can present in two forms, the mild form and the severe form. Fortunately, most animals will develop the mild form. You may notice a moist cough that can continue for a week up to a month. They may have a fever and lethargy or a reduced appetite. Sneezing and discharge from the eyes or nose may be noted; in some cases the nasal discharge may be thick. These dogs tend to recover in 2-3 weeks. With the severe form dogs can have any of the above symptoms as well as an increased respiration rate, a high fever (104oF or higher) and may develop a secondary pneumonia. In these cases the fatality rate is low (<10%).
- Is there a vaccine? At this time there is not a H3N2 vaccine in the U.S. There is a vaccine for the H3N8 strain but it is not known if it will offer any protection against the current strain of influenza. The best prevention right now is to keep your pet away from areas with high concentrations of dogs i.e. dog parks, pet stores, grooming, boarding and training facilities.
- How is canine influenza treated? Influenza is a virus therefore we can only treat the symptoms. Supportive care may include fluid therapy for dehydrated patients, medications to reduce fever and antibiotics if there is a secondary bacterial infection. In severe cases a patient may need to be hospitalized for further treatment.
- How can my pet get canine influenza? Direct contact with a coughing or sneezing dog is the most likely cause of infection but indirect transmission can also occur because the virus can live on clothing, hard surfaces, toys and water bowls for 12-48 hours. The spread of the disease can occur 48 hours before symptoms are seen. The virus can be transported to other dogs and cats by people via clothing and skin. It is recommended to change clothing and be sure to wash your hands well if you have been in contact with any infected dogs or cats.
- If your dog is coughing or sneezing, we recommend keeping them away from other animals and quarantined until their symptoms subside.
We will continue to send out updates as we receive more information on this outbreak.