Canine Influenza, also known as the “canine flu” or “dog flu,” is a Type A strain of influenza called H3N8 that causes respiratory disease in dogs. This strain of flu is only contagious to dogs, and is not contagious to people. Your dog cannot give you the flu, nor can you directly give your dog the flu. But this disease is highly contagious between dogs, and has been the cause of some very large outbreaks of sickness. Most recently and locally there was an outbreak of canine flu at the Farmingdale PetSmart PetHotel dog daycare and boarding in November 2011. The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports that at least 20 dogs in their Montgomery County have been sick with Canine Flu in 2013, resulting in at least two deaths, and have issued a warning to local veterinarians about this deadly disease.
The canine influenza virus can be spread from dog-to-dog by direct contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions (snot) from infected dogs, by contact with contaminated objects (items sniffed by other dogs and getting snot deposited on them), and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs without using proper hygiene or isolation technique (dog sniffs clothing or hands and deposits mucus). Therefore, just like with humans, any surface an infected dog has come into contact with can spread the canine flu virus to another dog. While you cannot directly give your dog the flu, if you yourself have touched or played with a dog which is infected, you can carry that infection home to your dog indirectly on your clothing and hands.
The difficult part is dogs that are infected with canine flu do not show clinical symptoms when the virus is at its most contagious stage. In other words, you will not know that the dog you meet at the dog park is sick just by looking at it. The groomer or kennel assistant may not know that a pet they just saw was sick before they attend to your pet. This is why canine flu is so contagious, because without being able to see that their pet is sick, many people bring their dogs to groomers, boarding kennels, training classes, or other public places under the assumption that their pet is in good health. Then your dog becomes exposed, and perpetuates the “not sick” contagious stage of the virus. Once your dog is showing symptoms of being sick with canine flu, it is too late to prevent the spread of the disease to other dogs.
The symptoms of canine flu in dogs are cough, runny nose and fever. Other respitory diseases with similar symptoms, such as Bordetella (kennel cough), Parainfluenza (not the same thing as canine flu), Adenovirus Type 2, and Pneumonia can complicate diagnosis, as they can occur at the same time in a dog that is already infected with canine flu. The number of dogs infected with this disease that die is very small, and whether or not a dog will die of this disease is dependant upon their immune strength, how ill they become overall, or whether there is a concurrent disease, such as kennel cough. All dogs of every age, breed, and type are susceptible to infection, and about 80% of all dogs who become infected with canine flu will require some form of supportive care in a veterinary hospital critical care isolation ward. There is no “flu season” with canine flu as there is with people flu, and dogs can become ill from canine flu at any point during the year, or at any point in their life.
Is My Dog At Risk For Getting Canine Flu?
In order to determine if your dog is at risk for getting canine flu, our Veterinary PetCare Team will do a lifestyle risk assessment during your dog’s examination to determine if they could possibly be exposed to canine flu in your day-to-day activities together. Questions you will be asked during this consultation would be similar to the following:
1. Does your dog receive grooming services, either at a grooming boutique or mobile groomer?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At High Risk for exposure to canine flu. Anywhere multiple dogs come into contact with equipment used on other dogs is a prime hotspot for the flu virus to spread. Groomers, even mobile groomers who attend to just one pet at a time in your driveway, are often not complete enough in their disinfecting of equipment and pet housing to prevent the spread of canine flu. All it takes is one sick dog to deposit snot upon a grooming table, or even on the groomer’s clothing, and then for your dog to sniff that location, to pass along the canine flu virus. And, most dogs infected with canine flu do not appear to be sick, therefore a mobile groomer may not even have been aware that a previous dog in their van was sick, and mobile groomer cannot simply use a different van or different equipment to isolate and reduce exposure of dogs after attending to an infected dog. The only way your dog might be at low risk for exposure to infection through this method is if you personally groom your dog at home, or if the groomer uses your house instead of a van.
2. Do you plan to place your dog in a boarding facility or use a pet-sitter at anytime in the next 12 months?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At High Risk for exposure to canine flu. This is where dogs have the most opportunity for direct dog-to-dog transmission of this disease, as they are all housed together within the same ventilation system, where any dog that is infected is passing that disease to others through the heating and air conditioning ducts, as well as by way of kennel assistants and other caretakers who are not practicing isolation techniques. Dogs at boarding facilities also typically share outdoor areas and common play areas, increasing exposure risk. The biggest outbreaks of canine flu, and the most severe, have occurred at dog daycare and boarding facilities. Even if you use an in-house pet sitter, if that individual is caring for multiple clients and other dogs at the same time, they can transfer canine flu between houses on their hands and clothing. They may not even know they are caring for a sick pet, as those pets that are most contagious are often not coughing or sneezing.
3. Do you plan to have your dog or puppy participate in group training classes or on-site training classes?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At High Risk for exposure to canine flu. Again, just as with boarding facilities and groomers, dogs at training classes and puppy kindergarten are often sharing a common space where people are moving between multiple dogs at one time. Puppies are particularly at high risk of infection and subsequent illness, as their immune systems are under-developed. The only way your dog may be at a low risk of exposure through obedience training is if it is done directly in your home without other dogs present. And even then, if the trainer you are working with previously worked with an infected dog, they are wearing canine flu into your home.
4. Do you take your dog to public gathering places, such as dog parks, shopping at pet warehouses, walks in your neighborhood where there are many other dogs?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At Moderate To High Risk for exposure to canine flu. Dogs are exposed to very many other dogs of unknown medical history at these locations, often face-to-face as they play or greet each other, thus increasing their risk for exposure to canine flu. The more face-to-face contact your dog has with other dogs, the greater their risk of exposure. Even dogs on leashes that sniff in areas previously visited by other dogs are at risk. The only way your dog may be of low risk for exposure through this method is if they never leave your house or yard except for veterinary care.
5. Do you plan to introduce a new canine family member to your household within the next 12 months?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At Moderate To High Risk for exposure to canine flu. It is important to have all new canine additions to your home, whether a puppy or grown dog, isolated away from your other dogs, and to wash your hands and change clothing between caring for the new dog and your other dogs, until they have had a health examination by your Veterinarian. Any new addition to the household that is coughing or sneezing needs immediate isolation and veterinary care. As with boarding facilities, animal shelters and rescue organizations also have the highest amount of outbreaks and illness from canine flu because of crowded living conditions. Never select a pet that is visibly ill, coughing, or sneezing, and if you still wish to adopt a visibly ill dog, require the individual who is sheltering the animal complete all the necessary veterinary care for that dog before you bring it home. To lower the risk of your dogs receiving illness or disease from a new addition, have their own preventative care vaccinations up-to-date and boostered before bringing a new addition home.
6. Will your dog be exposed to horses, or does your dog have a lot of contact with horses at all during the year?
If the answer is “No” Your Dog Is At Low Risk for exposure to canine flu. Canine flu is actually a mutation of equine flu, and was first isolated in greyhound dogs housed with horses as equine companions. While the transmission of flu between horse and dog is unlikely during brief contacts, your dog is at a much greater risk of being exposed to the canine flu virus if they are working dogs in constant direct contact with horses, or are barn dogs in constant contact with equine equipment. Long Island has many equine facilities scattered across it, and dogs that are living or working full time around these facilities are at high risk for exposure to canine flu.
7. Has your dog ever had a vaccination to prevent canine flu in the past?
If the answer is “Yes” Your Dog Is At Low To Moderate Risk of contracting canine flu. The canine flu vaccine must be given as a two-dose vaccine series spaced three to four weeks apart to provide initial protection against illness for one year, and then must be given once a year every year to maintain significant immunity to canine flu for the rest of a dog’s life. Dogs that had previously received canine flu, but may have missed a single yearly dose of the vaccine or have an incomplete initial series, are significantly better protected from canine flu than dogs who have never had the vaccine before. It doesn’t mean that a dog who skips a year of vaccination has a reduced exposure risk or will not contract the disease, but dogs that have had the canine influenza vaccine in the past do experience a reduction the severity and duration of the illness should they become sick. When we consult with you regarding your pet’s medical history, we will want to make sure we provide your dog with an up-to-date vaccination to ensure that they have the highest levels of protection against canine flu as possible.
Treatment for canine flu largely depends upon the severity of the illness, and if there are any complications from other illnesses such as pneumonia or kennel cough. Dogs that continue to eat and drink unassisted may be able to convalesce at home provided they are isolated from other dogs. Dogs with severe illness will require hospitalization in an intensive care isolation ward. And 80% of dogs who become sick with canine flu will require some form of hospitalized supportive care to maintain hydration, reduce discomfort, and reduce the chance of secondary infection. Unfortunately, there are no known medications that can be given to cure canine flu. Even human anti-viral medications, such at Tamiflu, have proven ineffective in canine patients, and are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in dogs. The only time a broad spectrum antibiotic would be administered to a patient with canine flu is if there is a secondary bacterial infection, such as kennel cough or pneumonia, present. And these antibiotics are recommended to be given intravenously during a hospital stay.
Preventing your dog from getting canine flu is easily done through vaccination. The canine flu vaccine is given for the first time at 8 weeks old, and then a booster is given at 12 weeks old. After the first initial vaccine series, preventative care consists of canine flu vaccination once a year for the life of your dog. Adult dogs can receive their first canine flu vaccine at any age, but will require a booster within 4 weeks of the initial vaccination in order to provide the best prevention. After this initial two-vaccine series, adult dogs can receive a vaccine of canine flu once a year to maintain optimal protection.
Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness and Laser Surgery Center has had the Canine Flu Vaccine available to our patients since 2010, and our professionals have attended many continuing education seminars regarding the transmission and prevention of canine flu since then. We cannot agree strongly enough with the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and we want to see many more patients be able to take advantage of the protection from serious illness caused by canine flu this vaccine has to offer.
Please call us at 631-696-2400 to have your dog vaccinated today.