A vaccine protecting against a relatively new – and sometimes deadly – strain of Canine influenza, or “dog flu,” has just been released by two major veterinary pharmaceutical companies.

The strain, known as H3N2, had been limited within Korea, China, and Thailand since 2006. However, an outbreak in the Chicago area occurred earlier this year which prompted fast action. Beginning in mid-April, more than 1,000 dogs in and around Chicago were identified as being infected. H3N2 then spread to Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, and California. Of the 2,000 confirmed cases, most dogs recovered; however, some dogs died.

The U.S.-based H3N2 strain is 99% identical to the Asian one and, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there have been rumors that it was imported from Asia through rescued dogs.

“Unlike human influenza, this virus is not seasonal, so it can be contracted at any time of the year,” said Dr. Susan Nelson, a clinical associate professor at Kansas State’s Veterinary Health Center. “Dogs that are at greatest risk for exposure to this disease are those who frequent areas where lots of dogs are in one place, like kennels, dog shows, shelters and doggie day care facilities.”

The History of H3N2

Vaccinations against the more common H3N8 dog flu strain have been available for years. However, none existed for the new and highly contagious strain when the outbreak occurred.

“There are differences in the genetic sequences of the two strains that suggest that [H3N8] vaccines would be poorly effective or ineffective in protecting dogs against the H3N2 virus infecting dogs in the Midwest,” said Dr. Colin Parrish, of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in April.

Now, pet owners can protect their pooches and other pets from the pesky flu. Cats, guinea pigs, and ferrets can possibly pick up the flu from their canine housemates, but it cannot be spread to humans. The virus can, however, be spread for up an “unusually long period” of up to 24 days and can live on a person’s hands for approximately 12 hours.

Symptoms of Canine Flu

Canine influenza is an extremely contagious respiratory infection. If you notice your dog is coughing, sneezing, or has a runny nose you should not shrug it off as a little cold or even allergies. The early signs of canine influenza are coughing or gagging. Clinical symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, lethargy, depression, and a fever as high as 103-107 degrees typically appear within 7 to 10 days post exposure. The severe form of canine influenza can lead to viral pneumonia.

While highly contagious, the good news is that the virus is easily killed by soap and water, disinfectants and 10 percent bleach solutions. Transmission can be prevented by isolating all suspected dogs, thorough cleaning of all cages and exposed surfaces such as floors, kennels food dishes and bedding.

Almost all dogs exposed to canine influenza become infected; about 80 percent fully develop the illness, while about 20 percent do not. Most dogs recover quickly; however, some dogs may contract pneumonia due to a secondary infection.

While the death rate for canine influenza is low, secondary infections and other complications can sometimes lead to death. Recently, two Philadelphia animal shelters were quarantined due to the death of six dogs from canine influenza. It is spread wherever dogs are in close contact with one another. Dogs that stay at home or have limited contact with other dogs are at low risk.

Treatment for Canine Flu

Like the flu that you contract, canine influenza is mostly treated by providing supportive care while the virus runs its course. Antibiotics may be used if secondary infections develop. The canine influenza vaccine is a is recommended for dogs at high-risk of contracting the virus.

Canine influenza does not infect humans. Call Gardner Animal Care Center today if you believe your dog has contracted canine influenza or if you’d like to make an appointment for the vaccine.

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