DEAR DIDI: Can my dog get the flu? -Senior Citizen in Manteca
DEAR CITIZEN: The simple answer is, yes. Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) reared its ugly head for the first time back in 2003. At that time, it seemed isolated to racing greyhounds in Florida but has now been clinically verified in most states. Viruses are able to easily change and mutate giving rise to new strains. The current theory is that an Equine flu mutated and was able to jump from horses to dogs. It is a CIV H3N8 strain that causes upper respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and a low grade fever. The vast majority of dogs (~80%) will recover without medical support. A small percentage of dogs can migrate into more serious conditions, such as pneumonia. A lot seems to depend on the age and health status of the dog at the time of getting flu. This particular strain, although spreading, seems to remain contained mostly to animal shelters.
CIV H3N2 arrived in the United States in 2015 by way of Chicago and has since spread to several states, including California. The virus was initially identified around 2005-2006 in Korea. A new trend in importing rescue dogs from Asia to the United States may have contributed to the spread of the virus. Several dogs in the South Bay Area of Northern California have recently been identified (Dec 2017/Jan 2018). This flu seems to be affecting more veterinary hospitals and places where lots of dogs frequent. Disease caused by CIV H3N2 is a little more severe than with the CIV H3N8.
There is absolutely no indication, according to the CDC, that humans can catch the dog flu or visa versa. Your cats, however, are also susceptible to CIV. It is spread through respiratory secretions from coughing, sneezing and barking. CIV can also be spread indirectly by dog bowls, leashes, or human hands. The virus can stay alive on surfaces for up to 48 hours. So this is sounding familiar right? Just like the news reports every year during flu season, wash your hands frequently, cover your mouths when coughing, cover your noses when sneezing, stay home, and wipe down surfaces. Obviously we can’t ask our dogs to cover their mouths and noses, so we must focus on keeping them home.
One of the big differences with CIV versus human flu, is that there is no “season” per se. The dog flu is an all year round risk. The incubation period is 1-5 days with symptoms usually appearing 2-3 days after initial exposure. Dogs are most contagious during this incubation period which makes it that much more difficult to stamp out. There is a CIV vaccine available and you should speak to your veterinarian about the benefits vs risks for your individual dog. Older dogs suffering from other health issues could be at more risk for complications if they catch the flu. Trust your veterinarian to look at the individual picture of your dog’s health and make a recommendation. If your dog begins coughing or seems to have less energy than usual it is a good idea to call your veterinarian. Many veterinarians will be keeping patients with suspected flu virus separated from their other patients by entering the building through alternate doorways.
Dog parks are obviously a very high risk area. Dogs may appear healthy and active while chasing a ball at the park but, in reality, are incubating the flu virus and spreading it through saliva soaked balls and barking while playing. Grooming facilities are at higher risk, as are boarding facilities, dog shows, and canine sports events. Many reputable boarding facilities are beginning to require the flu vaccine. Sycamore Lane Kennels in Lodi is a very large, state of the art, boarding facility that has sent out just such a notice. If you are planning on traveling in the upcoming months you should look into the vaccine sooner rather than later. It takes five days for the vaccine to be most effective after it is administered. -email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org