The Facts about the flu:
With Labor Day fast approaching, many people are taking their last vacations of the summer. Labor Day weekend is an especially busy time for many boarding facilities, as many people cannot take their beloved pets with them on vacation. With that in mind, it is an opportune time to discuss canine influenza.
Yes, it is true, your dog can get the flu. The canine flu most common in North America is H2N8. It is endemic in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and present in 40 states, including Connecticut.
So how exactly does a dog get the flu? It is very similar to how people get the flu. Most commonly it is via cough and sneeze, and unfortunately for our pets, they do not cover their nose or mouth. This leads to aerosolization of virus particles that can travel far distances. This places dogs in close quarters with other dogs at risk. In addition, the virus can live for a few hours in the environment. That means that the flu can be transmitted simply by petting a dog shedding virus particles or even by walking around where another dog has sneezed and tracking the virus on your shoes!
It takes about 2-4 days from the time of exposure to the virus until animals become symptomatic (incubation time). The scary thing about canine influenza is that the peak shedding time for virus particles is 2-4 days after exposure. That means that your dog could be shedding the flu virus without showing any clinical signs of disease! This leaves any pet exposed to that dog at risk of developing the flu and starting an outbreak.
So what does a dog with canine influenza look like? Because most dogs have never been exposed to canine influenza, 100% of dogs can be infected with the virus. 20% of dogs will shed virus particles, but will never show signs of the flu. 80% of dogs will show clinical signs of the flu. Most commonly these signs are mild and involve mild lethargy, low- grade fever, nonproductive cough, and minor clear to green nasal discharge. Up to 20% of pets that show clinical signs can have a more severe form of the flu. The population most likely to have severe signs are those that are sick or debilitated, those that are very old or very young, or those infected with multiple pathogens. More severe signs include high fever, a harsh productive cough, severe lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Sometimes canine influenza can lead to a severe pneumonia in which dogs cough up blood. Unfortunately, there is an 8% mortality rate for canine flu. That means that 8% of pets become so sick that they are euthanized or pass away.
The above statistics are only for those cases that are confirmed to be cause by canine influenza. The hard part about dog flu is that it cannot be definitively diagnosed based on clinical signs. Other upper respiratory pathogens, such as Bordatella bronchiseptica (Kennel cough), canine adenovirus, and canine parainfluenza virus, can cause the same or similar signs. Making a definitive diagnosis requires extensive and specialized testing.
So how to do we treat these dogs that acquire canine influenza? Because canine influenza is caused by a virus, there is no specific treatment for these dogs. We try to support them through infection, and most get better over time. We can give antibiotics to help treat secondary bacterial infections that are common with viral infections. Viruses break down the upper respiratory systems normal defense mechanisms and make it very easy for secondary bacterial invaders to get in. Again, while an antibiotic can vanquish a bacterial infection, it will not clear a viral infection. We can also provide IV fluid therapy and supplemental oxygen therapy for those pets that are severely affected. Nebulization and coupage has also been shown to be helpful for some patients. Tamiflu is NOT recommended for these pets. In order to be effective, this anti-viral must be given very early in the disease course. Generally it is too late in the disease process once dogs begin showing signs of the flu to have Tamiflu be useful. In addition, if used incorrectly, Tamiflu can lead to viral resistance in both the dog population and human population.
So how do we make sure our pets are safe from this potentially fatal disease? Luckily there is a vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for any dog that will enter a boarding or grooming facility, go to the dog park, or participate in any showing events. Basically, it is recommended for any pet that will be around other dogs of unknown health or vaccine status. Remember, the virus can be shed from completely asymptomatic dogs! You may never even know when your dog was exposed! This is why prevention is the best policy. The vaccine can be given to any dog over the age of 6 weeks. It is initially a two shot series given 3-4 weeks apart and is then boostered annually. The vaccine has been proven to reduce the severity of clinical signs associated with the flu (and thus lead to less fatalities), and reduce the quantity and time over which the viral particles can be shed.
Mobile Veterinary Clinic is committed to the health and safety of every animal that walks through our doors. Because of this, we are requiring that all dogs that will be boarded or groomed at our facility have the canine influenza vaccine. Again, this is to ensure the well-being of all of our furry guests while they are within our care. Please contact the doctors or staff at Mobile Veterinary Clinic with any questions, concerns, or comments.