Canine flu has been in the news recently, with some limited outbreaks recorded in Northern Arizona. Naturally, we’ve had a lot of calls from concerned pet parents. We totally get it. Our pets are beloved family members. Of course we want to be sure they’re getting the care they need in order to stay healthy!
Since we just happen to have more than 100 knowledgeable veterinarians in our AZPetVet family, we decided to ask Dr. Chris Hummel from AZPetVet Peoria to answer the most frequently asked questions about Canine Influenza.
Q: Is dog flu the same as people flu?
No. From a viral standpoint, dog flu is NOT the same as people flu. The two strains of Canine Influenza viruses found in the United States are H3N8 and N3N2, which researchers believe originated in horses. In very rare cases the dog flu virus has been known to infect cats, but the flu poses little risk to cats beyond a runny nose, coughing and/or sneezing.
People don’t get dog flu, and dogs don’t get people flu. However, in people and in dogs, there’s a gap between being exposed to the flu virus and developing symptoms. That’s why we’ll so often see outbreaks happen in clusters. Somebody is contagious and doesn’t know it until it’s too late; then suddenly everyone is sick.
From the American Veterinary Medical Association:
“H3N8 has an incubation period of 1 to 5 days, with clinical signs in most cases appearing 2 to 3 days after exposure. Dogs infected with H3N2 may start showing respiratory signs between 2 and 8 days after infection. Dogs are most contagious during the incubation period and shed the virus even though they are not showing clinical signs of illness. Some dogs may show no signs of illness, but have a subclinical infection and shed the virus.”
Q: How would a dog catch the flu?
Almost the same way a person would. The virus is transmitted through the air by sneezing and coughing (or barking, drooling and licking), or by contact with infected surfaces. Most likely, they would come into contact with another dog that’s contagious. So exposure to the dog flu virus usually happens at places where you find lots of dogs; the dog park, doggie daycare, a boarding kennel, grooming salon or dog show.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Well, here’s another area where dog flu is similar to people flu. Dogs with the flu will show symptoms like fever, lethargy, cough, stuffy or runny nose and watery eyes, difficulty breathing, wheezing or rapid breathing. You’ll be able to tell they’re not feeling well. Keep them quiet and away from other pets to avoid exposing them to the virus. Then it’s time to get busy.
The Canine Influenza virus can remain viable on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours. Wash your hands frequently. Wash your clothing, and clean and disinfect other items your pet may have touched. These include kennels and crates, food and water bowls, collars, leashes, bedding and toys.
Q: Is dog flu dangerous?
The severity of the flu varies depending on the viral strain, the pet’s age and overall health. Most otherwise healthy dogs will recover from the flu without problem or any special treatment required. The cough may last for up to 3-4 weeks.
Older dogs with weakened immune systems or puppies with underdeveloped immunity are more at risk as their bodies will have a harder time fighting the virus, so there’s a higher risk for developing pneumonia.
Dogs with short muzzles, like pugs and bulldogs, already have a compromised respiratory system. Sore throats and stuffy noses would naturally make them feel quite sick, so they’d need close monitoring and a trip to the vet’s office.
Q: How is Canine Influenza treated?
There is no specific treatment for Canine Influenza. Most dogs will not need any specialized treatment. The majority of treatments used in severe cases are supportive. They may include IV fluids, oxygen, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and mucolytics (a class of medications which help break down mucus to make it easier to expel it from the lungs).
Q: So should my dog get a flu shot?
While vaccines are available for both H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza, vaccination would only be recommended for dogs at high risk for infection. It is important to note, vaccination can only reduce the risk of a dog contracting canine influenza, it may not prevent an infection. However, it can potentially reduce the severity and duration of the flu. It’s best to talk over your concerns with your vet.
Q: Anything else we need to know?
One last, but very important reminder – people can’t get dog flu, but they can inadvertently spread it if they’ve touched a contaminated surface (or petted one). That’s why animal hospitals follow strict guidelines for cleaning and disinfection. We take extra precautions when seeing pets that are exhibiting respiratory symptoms.
If you suspect your pet has the flu or has been exposed to it, or they’re having respiratory symptoms, call us first. You may receive special instructions for bringing your dog into the office. These restrictions are in place to reduce the risk of exposing other animals in the waiting room to something that could be contagious.
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