Here is what we know:
What is canine influenza?
Canine flu is a highly contagious virus in dogs that is transmitted via direct contact, respiratory droplets expelled from the mouth and nose, and contaminated objects including clothing. There are currently two strains of canine influenza; H3N8, until recently was the only strain seen in the US since 2004 when it was first discovered. Cases of the new strain, H3N2, were first reported in the spring of 2015 in Chicago. A new strain of flu means there is no natural immunity to the disease, which also means if a dog is exposed to H3N2, the chances of contraction are very high. There is no evidence that these strains are transmissible to cats, humans, or other animals.
Is my dog at risk?
Dogs who frequent boarding kennels, doggy day care, groomers, parks, training classes, dog shows, or live in an area where space is shared with other dogs such as apartment buildings, etc., are at an increased risk of illness. The morbidity rate (the number of exposed animals that develop disease) is high; estimated at 80%. Deaths occur mainly in dogs with a severe form of the disease and complications due to secondary infections; the mortality rate is low at less than 10%.
Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, and lethargy. If your dog is exhibiting signs of the flu, there is something you should do immediately. Call your veterinarian. Give them a heads up on your dogs symptoms and behavior before bringing them into the hospital. This will allow us to take the necessary precautions to contain the infection and avoid transmission to other dogs.
Should my dog get a flu vaccine?
The H3N8 and the new H3N2 vaccines for canine influenza are currently a subjective matter based on lifestyle. If your dog has received a bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine, your veterinarian is likely to recommend flu vaccines due to similar risk groups.
For anyone who’s ever spent an ounce of time online, terrifying internet myths concerning flu vaccines are never in short supply. Canine influenza is no exception. Internet blogs are a great resource if you’re interested in learning how to use a chocolate pen or how to contour your face, not for science and health information. Save yourself and your veterinary team a profound headache and don’t fall for the hype of the interwebs. Both the H3N8 and H3N2 vaccines have been thoroughly tested and approved for safety. Though no vaccine can guarantee 100% immunity, vaccinating is still the best way to protect your canine family if you’re concerned about the flu. Vaccinating can also lessen the severity of symptoms and duration of illness. Currently, the initial doses for both strains are two separate injections followed by boosters three weeks later and annually thereafter.
Lastly, be frequent in monitoring news reports in your area for updates and new transmission data. And as always, if you suspect Fluffy isn’t feeling well for any reason, in the redundant yet warranted words of Doc McStuffins, “Your pet can’t talk if something is off. Get your pet… to the VET!”
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Ashlee Bischoff is a writer, science enthusiast, and veterinary ERA in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.