dog flu

Dog Flu or Canine Influenza Symptoms and Treatment

The prevalence of canine influenza (or dog flu) is currently on the rise, prompting concerns among veterinarians nationwide. Most dogs who contract canine influenza will experience mild flu-like symptoms, including a cough, eye or nasal discharge, and fatigue.

Generally, these dogs will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it is important to note that a small percentage of infected dogs may develop more severe complications, such as a high fever or pneumonia.

Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian based in Ontario, Canada, and a veterinary medical advisor for the pet care platform Rover, has observed an increasing number of dogs visiting her practice with signs of respiratory infections. “We’re definitely witnessing more cases, appearing in clusters, involving respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy young dogs,” she shared.

While a vaccine for canine influenza is available, it hasn’t historically been a routine vaccination for most veterinarians. However, given the recent surge in cases, many veterinarians are now encouraging pet parents to consider getting their dogs vaccinated, particularly if their dogs are frequently boarded or visit dog parks.

“It has now become significant enough that we are reevaluating our vaccine protocols to enhance protection for our canine patients,” noted Dr. Greenstein. With canine influenza on the rise, it is crucial for dog owners to stay vigilant and be aware of the common symptoms associated with the infection.

Seeking prompt veterinary attention if there are any suspicions of illness in their pups is highly recommended. By taking proactive measures, pet parents can help safeguard the health and well-being of their furry companions.

What is dog flu a.k.a. canine influenza ?

Dog flu, a highly contagious respiratory infection, is primarily transmitted through large respiratory droplets that dogs expel when they cough, bark, or sneeze.

Similar to human respiratory illnesses, the virus can also spread through contaminated surfaces such as water bowls or areas where dogs commonly gather, like groomers or doggy daycares. Dogs can even transmit the virus by engaging in nose-to-nose contact with other dogs.

Due to its status as an emerging disease and the limited immunity within the dog population, the majority of dogs exposed to canine influenza will become infected. Approximately a quarter of infected dogs will not show any symptoms, while around 80% will develop flu-like signs such as coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, runny eyes, fever, and general lethargy. In most cases, the symptoms of canine influenza will be mild, as noted by Dr. Greenstein.

However, a small percentage of dogs may progress to pneumonia, experiencing a severe cough, extreme fatigue, upset stomach, or difficulty breathing. It is important to highlight that less than 10% of dogs affected by the flu will succumb to it.

Which dogs are at risk ?

Similar to humans, certain groups of dogs are at higher risk for severe outcomes, including young, old, or pregnant dogs, as well as those with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune systems. After exposure to the virus, dogs typically take between two to four days to develop symptoms. Interestingly, infected dogs can appear clinically normal during the incubation period while still being capable of spreading the infection to other dogs, as Dr. Greenstein pointed out.

While it is advisable to quarantine dogs from other canines to prevent further transmission, there is no evidence to suggest that dogs can transmit canine influenza to humans. Therefore, there is no need for social distancing measures between humans and their pets in this regard.

If you suspect that your dog may be at risk or exhibiting symptoms of canine influenza, seeking veterinary assistance is crucial. A veterinarian can assess whether your dog would benefit from the canine influenza vaccine as a preventive measure or require treatment if currently affected by the illness.

The current outbreaks of canine influenza can be attributed to two specific strains: H3N2 and H3N8. These strains originally emerged in other animal species before mutating and spreading to dogs. H3N8, which made its transition from horses to dogs around 2004, was followed by H3N2, the strain responsible for the current surge in cases.

H3N2 likely originated from birds and first caused outbreaks in domestic dogs in 2015 and 2016. Edward Dubovi, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explains that the introduction of canine influenza to the United States occurred through the importation of infected dogs from Asia, where transmission was already ongoing.

Since then, canine flu outbreaks have been an annual occurrence. Dubovi emphasizes the ongoing risk of infected dogs being imported into the country, posing a constant threat. Various regions have experienced canine influenza outbreaks in recent years.

In 2022, Los Angeles faced a significant outbreak, while this year the dog flu has spread in parts of the South and Northeast. The movement of dogs plays a crucial role in the transmission of the virus. Whether dogs are traveling for vacation with their owners or being transported for adoption or show purposes, the flu can spread rapidly.

Dubovi notes that the movement of sick dogs is a major contributing factor to the virus’s spread throughout the United States. Additionally, some veterinarians believe the resurgence of dog flu can be attributed to people resuming travel and commuting to offices after two years of pandemic restrictions. This has led to an increased utilization of daycare and boarding facilities, creating more opportunities for the virus to circulate among dogs.

Overall, the complex interplay of imported infected dogs, travel, and increased dog-related activities contributes to the current outbreaks of canine influenza. Understanding these factors is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures and managing the spread of the virus.

Dog flu prevention

Prevention and treatment of canine influenza are crucial in managing the spread of the virus and ensuring the well-being of dogs. Vaccination is one of the primary preventive measures available. The canine influenza shot targets both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the virus.

While the vaccine does not guarantee complete protection against infection, it plays a vital role in preventing severe disease, reducing the risk of hospitalization, and minimizing the potential for fatalities. Although the exact efficacy of the vaccine is not known, previous research indicates that it is highly effective in preventing severe symptoms and reducing the amount of virus shed by infected dogs.

Edward Dubovi emphasizes that while mild respiratory signs may be observed in vaccinated dogs, these symptoms are unlikely to progress to severe pneumonia or require veterinary intervention. The vaccine provides a level of protection that significantly reduces the severity of the illness.

Dog flu treatment

In the absence of antiviral treatments specifically designed for the dog flu, the approach to managing an infected dog is similar to that of other respiratory infections. If a dog tests positive for the flu, rest and fluid intake are typically recommended, along with the prescription of anti-inflammatory medications in the event of a fever.

Antibiotics may also be prescribed to prevent secondary infections from occurring. Dogs that become severely ill and develop pneumonia may require intravenous fluids and supportive oxygen therapy to aid their recovery.

If you suspect that your dog has contracted the flu, it is essential to consult your veterinarian. They will have knowledge of the prevalence of canine influenza in your area and can perform a swab test to confirm the presence of the virus or other respiratory infections.

While most dogs will recover without complications, it is important to have them evaluated by a professional, as the condition of some dogs can deteriorate rapidly. As Dr. Greenstein advises, when in doubt about your dog’s health, it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek guidance from your family veterinarian.

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