Canine Influenza

posted on June 01, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

We have been hearing a lot of news lately regarding canine influenza, and would like to address some of the more common questions we are getting.  If you have additional questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are closely monitoring the situation, and are following guidelines from both the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and Board of Animal Health.

Influenza virus, or the flu virus, is a virus that many animals can get, including dogs, cats, birds, pigs, and humans.  Flu viruses are a type of virus that can change and mutate easily, meaning that there are often different strains circulating.  This is why the flu vaccine for people is different every year, and sometimes doesn’t help prevent an outbreak like predicted.

Symptoms of influenza are primarily respiratory in nature.  Nasal discharge, coughing, fever, increased respiratory rate, or pneumonia can be seen.  These symptoms can mimic other respiratory illness such as kennel cough, upper respiratory tract infections, or other causes of pneumonia for instance.  If your pet is showing any signs of respiratory illness, they should not be allowed to be in contact with other dogs and they should be examined by a veterinarian.

This isn’t the first time the veterinary world has seen canine influenza.  In 2004, an outbreak of a strain called H3N8 was found in racing greyhounds.  The new strain in Chicago has been found to be a different strain by Cornell University.  It is an H3N2 strain, which has only previously been found in Asia.

Because it is a different strain of virus, the current vaccine, which is for the H3N8 strain, may not be effective.  In Illinois, the majority of outbreaks have been in shelters, kennels, or day care facilities where there was close contact.  It does not seem to be common in household pets.  For these reasons, at this time we are not recommending vaccinating with this vaccine.  If the recommendations change, we will alert you to this.

There are things you can do to help prevent your dog from getting the influenza virus.  The flu virus is spread from dog to dog contact, usually from aerosol droplets (from coughing or sneezing), or by contact with items that have been contaminated.  For these reasons, in the face of an outbreak, we would recommend you avoid close contact with other dogs such as daycare, dog parks, and boarding facilities.  Make sure you wash your hands and change clothes if you are near sick dogs.  Prevent sharing of water or food bowls, or toys with dogs outside of your household.  Per Dr. Silverstein, “This is a wake up call to be mindful of our pet’s hygiene as much as we are mindful of our own.”

The flu virus is not very hardy in the environment, usually not surviving more than 24-48 hours.  It is inactivated or killed by commonly used disinfectants, including washing hands with soap and water.

According to the CDC, this strain of influenza is a low risk to cause illness in humans, and none have been reported at this time.  This strain has been noted to cause some illness in cats in Asia, but has not been seen here in the United States.

Overall, we are monitoring the situation at this time, but at this time we are not recommending the old vaccine.  Use good hygiene and avoid situations where there is close contact between pets if you are still concerned.  If your pet is showing any signs of respiratory illness, contact your veterinarian.

Posted in: Canine Health