It seems like every few days the weather changes to a different season. On Sunday it was summer like. Then on Tuesday, it was winter again. By Friday it will return to spring or fall weather. People and pets may struggle to keep up will all the weather swings. At least people can add or remove layers of clothing in an attempt to keep comfortable. Pets with fur coats may have more of a struggle to remain comfortable as fur is not so flexible. It is no wonder that flu and other respiratory illnesses are prevalent in the area at this time of year.
Is Fluffy under the weather? If Fluffy is a social dog who visits dog parks, doggie day care, grooming salons, stays at a boarding kennel, or attends group classes such as obedience classes, they may have been exposed to canine influenza, more commonly called dog flu. Unlike the human flu virus, canine influenza is not a seasonal virus. Dogs may develop dog flu at any time throughout the year. Dog flu may be caught by dogs of any age, any breed, either gender, and irregardless of their health status. It is a matter of who is exposed to the virus. Up to 80 percent of dogs who are exposed to dog flu will become infected.
The symptoms of dog flu are similar to those of kennel cough and possibly other respiratory diseases. Dogs may be contagious for days before symptoms appear. Symptoms include a persistent cough, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Many dogs will exhibit mild symptoms. One in five animals will have a more severe form of the illness and a few dogs will not survive the disease. However, ten to twenty percent of animals will become infected but show no symptoms.
It is important to visit a veterinarian to determine what condition your dog has and to get guidance on proper treatment. Kennel cough (Bordetella, a bacteria) is treatable with antibiotics while dog flu, a virus, is not. Instead, dog flu is treated with supportive care. A veterinarian may provide medicine to reduce fever, provide fluids if the animal is dehydrated, and treat secondary infections such as pneumonia should they develop.
Currently, two strains of canine influenza have been identified: H3N2 and H3N8. The H3N2 strain has been documented as causing flu in cats in a shelter in Indiana in 2016. So, yes, cats can get canine influenza. Just so you know, dog flu cannot be passed to humans as canine influenza virus is different from the human influenza virus.
Dog flu is highly contagious. It is passed by direct contact, barking, coughs, sneezing and contact with contaminated surfaces such as food and water bowls, bedding, leashes, and kennels. Humans can spread the disease to healthy animals if they do not exercise proper sanitation procedures. Obviously, proper procedures start with diligent hand washing, especially before touching a different animal. Otherwise, the virus can spread to door knobs, phones, and other household items and, of course, other animals. Clothing and bedding may harbor the virus so those items need to be washed in hot water with detergent and bleach.
Dogs who are ill need to be isolated from healthy animals. Providing isolation may be a real challenge in multiple animal households. It is best to provide physical separation between healthy and sick animals such as keeping the infected animal in a separate room away from the rest of the pack. If a separate room is not possible, the dog who has flu may be kept in a crate and you may be able to devise some sort of physical barrier using stacked boxes, a tarp, or other materials. Dogs may shed the virus for more than 20 days so maintaining isolation will not be a short-duration activity. Most animals recover from canine influenza in two to three weeks.
If your dog does not visit dog parks, groomers, or attend classes and is not boarded, his chance of exposure to canine influenza will be minimal. If your dog is more social, please discuss with your veterinarian the pros and cons of having your dog vaccinated for canine influenza. Finally, if Fluffy is not feeling well and develops a cough, it is probably time to visit her primary care physician, your local veterinarian.