It seems everywhere we go nowadays, there are signs telling us to get a flu shot and protect ourselves. We need to stop the spread of the virus that causes hundreds of hospitalizations and numerous deaths each year. But what about the health of our dogs? The truth is, there is a very real chance that a version of the flu will hit our canine friends just as it hits their owners. So while we are educating ourselves on the symptoms and treatment for viruses like the H1N1, do your dog a favor and learn what to look for in viral symptoms showing in them as well.
First, the canine influenza virus or “dog flu” is known as influenza A H3N8 virus (not a human influenza virus) that was originally an equine strain. This spread to dogs and is now able to be passed between them but not to their owners. The first reported cases of the “dog flu” were discovered in 2004 when veterinarians began seeing cases of Greyhounds suffering from an unknown upper respiratory illness. After scientists began to study the illness, it was found to be caused by the equine influenza virus H3N8, which had apparently jumped species and adapted to cause illness in canines. This viral infection is now considered a dog-specific lineage of the A H3N8 influenza. What you need to know about canine influenza.
The most important thing that owners can do for their pets is to know what the symptoms are. As with the human flu, A H3N8 presents with cough, runny nose and fever although a few could develop into a much more serious disease known as pneumonia. Very few dogs die of the “dog flu” but the illness can vary in intensity with almost 80 percent having at least a mild form of the disease each year. Like humans, the virus is spread by direct contact with contaminated objects, by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs and through airborne secretions like sneezing. If your dog displays symptoms of the A H3N8 virus, contact your local veterinarian to schedule a test and to get the supportive care your dog needs to recover. This usually consists of medication and liquids to make the animal more comfortable. Serious cases will require a broad-spectrum antibiotic, intravenous fluids and at least a one-night stay with the veterinarian.
The good news, there is now a safe and effective vaccine available which is approved by the USDA called “Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8”. Nobivac vaccine Any owner of a dog, which is kept in close proximity with other dogs for more than 6 hours, should vaccinate their pet as soon as possible. As of October 2011, there are 38 states reporting cases of the A H3N8 virus including Connecticut, and researchers agree that there is a possibility of this illness going pandemic if people are not warned and educated properly.
So while the signs are out telling us to get our flu shot and protect ourselves this year, maybe we need to schedule a flu shot for our pet as well. Watching our animals suffer is similar to watching our children suffer and it can be a lot more expensive to visit the doctor. We, as a community, need to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus among our pets. Call your local veterinarian with questions about the A H3N8 virus and ask about getting the vaccine for your dog. Like the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.”