Watch Out of Canine Flu Symptoms
Canine flu has claimed the lives of at least five dogs in the Midwest and sickened more than 1,000.
This outbreak started in Chicago, and has now spread to other cities in Illinois and to Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Experts think the virus got a foothold during spring break and Easter week, when families left their dogs at boarding establishments and doggie daycare facilities. Members of the veterinary community say the disease is spread most efficiently in places where many dogs congregate.
Last week New Jersey officials issued a warning; so far New York health officials have not issued any warnings.
There are two types of canine influenza. The first one originated as a horse flu virus that spread to dogs in 2004 in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says, “Scientists believe this virus jumped species (from horses to dogs) and has adapted to cause illness in dogs and spread among dogs, especially those housed in kennels and shelters.” This virus is called H3N8 and is now considered a dog-specific virus. The first dogs afflicted were Greyhounds, so sometimes it’s called “Greyhound’s Disease.” The second type of dog flu arose in South Korea and is an avian flu that spread to dogs in 2007. This is known as the H3N2 virus and it is the bug that has struck dogs in the Midwest. Up until now it had only been seen in South Korea, Thailand, and China. It is not understood how this virus was first introduced to American soil. This Asian strain of canine flu is more virulent than the American one.
According to the CDC, dogs in urban areas are particularly at risk because they have more exposure to other dogs than they do in rural or suburban settings. Dr. Christina Moore, who chats with Urban Dog each month about health issues, feels New York City could potentially have a big problem because of the density of the dog population here. New York has lots of places where dogs come into contact with one another: at dog parks and doggie day care, and in the care of dog walkers. The CDC also says canine flu is very easily spread:
Almost all dogs are susceptible to canine flu infection, and illness tends to spread among dogs housed in kennels and shelters. Canine flu can spread to other dogs by direct contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions (coughing and sneezing) from infected dogs, by uninfected dogs coming into contact with contaminated objects, and by moving contaminated objects or materials between infected and uninfected dogs.
In addition to coughing and sneezing, symptoms include a runny nose or nasal discharge, fever, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Keep in mind, however, that some dogs can be asymptomatic. In worst-case scenarios, the disease can lead to pneumonia. Dr. Moore says puppies, older dogs, and immune-suppressed dogs are more at risk. Canine flu has never spread to humans.
It is important to note that since both strains of dog flu have only been around for several years, the general population of dogs has not yet developed antibodies to them and therefore most dogs are susceptible. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that up to 80% of dogs exposed to these viruses will get sick.
There is a vaccine for H3N8, the American strain; there is no vaccine for H3N2, the strain that arose in South Korea.
Treatment is mainly supportive: sick dogs should be given medicine to help alleviate symptoms and kept hydrated. In more severe cases, vets may prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to help prevent secondary infections.
If your dog has a cough, check with your vet. Coughing can be a symptom of many diseases, so there’s no need to panic. There are tests for both strains of canine flu that your vet can use.