Even dogs have their day with the flu

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comFebruary 1, 2012 

Sick Dog

Sick dog facing camera on white background

MICHAEL PETTIGREW_

  • Arf-choo!

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the go-to government source for human health information, recently put together this Q&A about the dog flu.

    What is canine influenza (dog flu)? Dog flu is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by a specific Type A influenza virus referred to as a "canine influenza virus." This is a disease of dogs, not of humans.

    What is a canine influenza virus? The "canine influenza virus" is an H3N8 influenza virus that was originally found in horses. This virus has spread to dogs and can now spread easily between dogs.

    How long has canine influenza been around? The H3N8 equine influenza virus has been known to exist in horses for more than 40 years. In 2004, however, cases of an unknown respiratory illness in dogs (initially greyhounds) were reported. Scientists believe that this virus jumped from horses to dogs. In September 2005, this virus was identified by experts as "a newly emerging pathogen in the dog population" in the United States.

    What are the symptoms? The symptoms of this illness in dogs are cough, runny nose and fever; however, a small proportion of dogs have more serious symptoms.

    How serious is this infection in dogs? The number of dogs infected with this disease that die is very small. Some dogs have no symptoms, while some have severe infections. Severe illness is characterized by the onset of pneumonia. Although this is a relatively new cause of disease in dogs and nearly all dogs are susceptible to infection, about 80 percent of dogs will have a mild form of the disease.

    How does dog flu spread? The virus can be spread by direct contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions — such as droplets from a sneeze or nose to nose contact from infected dogs, by contact with contaminated objects and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs.

    Is there a test? The tests can be performed at veterinary diagnostic centers using respiratory secretions collected at the time of disease onset or using two blood samples; the first collected while the animal is sick and the second 2 to 3 weeks later.

    How is canine influenza treated? Much as with humans, treatment largely consists of supportive care. This helps the dog mount an immune response. In the milder form of the disease, this care may include medication to make your dog more comfortable and fluids to ensure that your dog remains well-hydrated. Broad spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected.

    Is there a vaccine for canine influenza? Yes. Talk to your veterinarian to see what they recommend. A vaccine was approved in 2009.

    What is the risk to humans from this virus? To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza virus from dogs to people and there has not been a single reported case of human infection with the canine influenza virus.

    My dog has a cough; what should I do? Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so that they can evaluate your dog.

    Source: CDC

Just as schools send parents a cautionary text message when the flu hits especially hard, Steve Robinson decided earlier this winter to make sure dog parents were aware of the canine flu.

Hundreds of patrons of Uptown Hounds, Robinson's pet hotel and doggie day care in Lexington, received an email explaining that there have been recent signs of respiratory illness in Lexington and urging "all clients to be very cautious about where your dogs are taken during the next few weeks."

The dog flu, or the more fancy moniker canine influenza, is relatively new on the disease landscape, but most pups should fare just fine with a few precautions and a little care, said Michelle Jude, a veterinarian at Sheabel's in Lexington.

The flu first showed up in Florida Greyhounds in 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a mutated form of a virus that has been found in horses for more than 40 years. Although the canine flu currently can't be passed to humans, there is a remote chance that it could further mutate, so its growth has been monitored by the CDC.

While the death rate for canine influenza is very low, the secondary pneumonia can be life-threatening in some cases. There is no evidence that dogs of particular age or breed are more susceptible to developing pneumonia from canine influenza.

"It clears itself up within seven to 10 days, " said Jude, adding she sees several cases a week during flu season.

"It's just like if your kids go to day care and get a cold, it will go away."

A vaccine was approved in 2009, and its popularity is spreading.

Jude recommends that dogs get vaccinated, and Robinson requires his day care doggies and overnight canine guests to be vaccinated.

"I would be leery going around other dogs that aren't vaccinated."

To that end, owners with unvaccinated dogs may want to avoid places like pet stores, the dog park and dog competitions.

The American Kennel Club suggests owners who get a vaccine for kennel cough may want to consider a flu vaccine for their pet.

Madison Carey, development director for the Lexington Humane Society, said the dogs in that kennel have been given the flu vaccine for over a year and a half as part of a grant funded by the drug maker Merck. She said the vaccine seems to have effectively kept the virus at bay.

In the end, Robinson said, it might add some protection because prevention can be tough. Dogs will be dogs. When they greet one another, it's generally muzzle to muzzle.

"It's not like a dog is going to refuse to shake your hand" to avoid sharing the flu, Robinson said.

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-350-5697, Ext. 3261.

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