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Flu Season — is your Dog at Risk?

The time of year commonly known as ‘flu season’ is here again. Actually, the flu can occur any time during the year. This year, new influenza viruses and possible risks to our pets have resulted in widespread confusion and questions about prevention, symptoms and treatments. A wealth of information exists about H1N1 Swine Flu prevention and treatment for children and adults. But are our pets at risk of getting the Swine Flu? What is Canine Influenza? Can dogs spread it to each other or to us?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dogs and cats have their own versions of influenza viruses. The canine version is Influenza Type A H3N8; the feline version is Influenza Type A H5N1. (The numbers and letters represent virus types and protein types on the virus surface.)

The Canine Influenza virus was originally an equine virus that was diagnosed over 40 years ago. Since then it has spread from horses-to-dogs and has recently spread from dog-to-dog in two forms — one is a mild form of the disease while the other is more severe. At this time there is no evidence of Canine Influenza spreading from dogs to any other animal species.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) emphasizes that, because Canine Influenza is a unique pathogen and a newly emerging disease, almost all dogs are susceptible to infection. They claim that some dogs have shown mild (or no) symptoms while others might have severe infections. The disease is often characterized by the onset of pneumonia or other symptoms similar to kennel cough.

To date, there have been no known reports of influenza viruses that have spread from pets to humans and there are no known (reported) cases of dogs contracting the H1N1 Swine Flu virus from humans. Fatal cases of pneumonia as a result of the Canine Influenza virus have been reported but, to date, the fatality rate has reportedly been very low.

Although there have been no known cases of dogs contracting the H1N1 Swine Flu from their owners, two cats and three ferrets were recently reported as having been infected. The clinical signs observed in these animals were coughing and respiratory problems as well as fever, lethargy and loss of appetite — after their owners became ill. There is no evidence that these infected pets spread the H1N1 Swine Flu virus to any other animals or to people.

Dogs are especially at risk for Canine Influenza where they might gather in large numbers — at a boarding kennel, a dog park or a dog show. And, people who work at kennels or other types of animal care facilities (including clinics, shelters, adoption centers, pet stores, etc.) can inadvertently transmit canine influenza virus from infected dogs to susceptible dogs by not following proper hygiene. The AVMA offers a list of recommended precautions in this type of animal care environment on their Web site

Last spring a Canine Influenza vaccine (from an inactivated virus) was introduced in the U.S. The vaccine was granted a conditional product license by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Health Inspection Service, through its Center for Veterinary Biologics. The vaccine is intended to aid in the control of the Canine Influenza virus for dogs over six weeks of age as an annual protocol for more comprehensive protection. Under the conditional license, this experimental vaccine is being distributed (as authorized) in individual states, under the supervision of veterinarians. The product will continue to be evaluated by government regulators to establish whether a regular product license will be issued. For more information about this vaccine, check with your veterinarian.

What’s the best way to protect your dog from Canine Influenza? Any pets suspected or confirmed to be infected should be evaluated immediately by a veterinarian. The following tips from Lisa Peterson, AKC spokesperson, can help safeguard your dog from the canine flu:

  • Avoid contact with unfamiliar dogs when walking your dog out in public.
  • When visiting the dog run or town park, keep an eye out for coughing dogs. Since ‘canine flu’ and Bordetella or ‘kennel cough’ are both airborne diseases, keeping your dog away from any coughing dog is the best prevention.
  • Closely watch for symptoms of canine flu, including a dry cough and a high fever.
  • If your dog does exhibit symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately since the virus does have the potential to cause a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, which can be fatal to some dogs.
  • Before you bring your dog to the veterinarian, call and alert them about your dog’s symptoms. They may want to set up a separate quarantine area for your dog before your visit. Do not show up unannounced at your vet’s office.

For additional information, visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/transcripts/t050926.htm

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine:
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/dogflu/

Photographs courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention/Public Health Image Library

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