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Protecting Your Pet from Dog Flu

As fall approaches, the change of season becomes apparent. This is a beautiful time of year, but it is also the time of canine influenza outbreak, just as it is the flu season for humans.

Canine influenza (otherwise known as dog flu) is a contagious respiratory disease occurring in dogs caused by a specific virus (H3N8). This disease became famous in 2004 when the virus caused the death of greyhound dogs at a race track in New Jersey. It was suspected that the virus jumped from race horses to racing dogs and mutated.

Today, dog flu has been classified as epidemic in several areas of the country due to its recurring nature. Southern New Jersey, New York, and northern Colorado/southern Wyoming reports high numbers of cases each year, although the virus can be found in over 22 states in the United States.

Although canine influenza is highly contagious among dogs, there is no evidence that supports transmission to cats, horses, other animals, or human beings. Humans, however, can be carriers of the virus and infect another dog if they have been exposed.

So far this season, 26 dogs have been sickened in a kennel in Virginia, and one has died. Other cases have been reported in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

What are the symptoms of canine influenza?
Symptoms can include a persistent cough lasting from 10 to 30 days, fever, and possibly a nasal discharge. If not properly treated, this virus can develop into pneumonia. It is most common in shelters where large amounts of dogs move in and out and exposure is high. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80% of dogs will have a mild form of this disease.

How do I get my dog tested for canine influenza?
Veterinary Diagnostic Centers can perform tests on nasal secretions at the onset of infection. Detection from a series of blood tests can also confirm the presence of infection.

How do I protect my dog from canine influenza?
The first thing to do is to monitor your dog's behavior and appearance. Watch for nasal secretions and coughing. Your dog may also become lethargic or unwilling to eat. Take your dog to your veterinarian if these conditions continue.

Ask your veterinarian about a canine influenza vaccine that was recently approved in the United States. UPDATE: The first vaccine against canine influenza virus (CIV), Nobivac® Canine Flu H3N8, has been granted a full license by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service through its Center for Veterinary Biologics.

Check on any bulletins from local shelters, animal rescue groups, county/municipal animal control officials or the local news. These are the people who will let you know if there is an outbreak in your community. Should an outbreak of dog flu occur, keep your pet away from other dogs and dog parks until the number of reported cases falls. This is especially important for those people who live in the areas where there are the highest concentration of cases.

If you are traveling with your dog, and exposure to other animals will increase, confirm that dog flu has not been prevalent where you are visiting. Note the appearance of other dogs before letting them go nose to nose with your dog. Ask their owners if the dog is well and social before easing up on your leash.

Even these common sense precautions may not prevent your pet from catching dog flu, but your attention to your pet will certainly insure that will get the care that they need should they become infected.

What is the treatment should my dog get canine influenza?
You will want to have your veterinarian confirm that your pet is infected. The best treatment is to be supportive of your pet's condition. Make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink, and don't over exercise them during this time. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if they suspect a secondary infection.

At this time, there are no reported cases of canine influenza in humans or other animals aside from horses. However, as humans are extremely sensitive to new viruses, of which they have little immunity, the H3N8 canine influenza virus is being watched very carefully.