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

Lyme disease

posted on November 04, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

While the temperatures have finally turned cold enough that ticks are a fleeting memory, this is one of the times of year where we see our highest prevalence of tick borne illnesses (spring being the other time).  While there are a number of tick borne illnesses, one of the more common ones is Lyme disease.

Lyme disease, or Borrelia burgdorferi, is a common tick borne illness in the Northeastern United States.  It is carried by the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.  An infected deer tick must bite an animal and attach itself for 24-48 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease, so finding unattached ticks or using a product that kills ticks within 24-48 hours should prevent infection. If an animal does become infected, it takes many weeks to months before signs become apparent.  Animals do not tend to get a target-like rash from the original tick bite like humans do.  When they do show signs, they are often nonspecific such as fever, inappetance, lethargy, limping, especially shifting leg lameness, and just not acting like themselves.  Often this is because of multiple joint arthritis, or joint inflammation and pain.  Since it can take months to see these signs, a bite in early spring before the first dose of tick preventative is applied is usually not noticed until the following fall.

If your pet is showing any of these signs, or is just not acting right, we may recommend performing tick borne illness testing such as the Idexx 4Dx Plus test.  This test looks at a number of common tick borne illnesses including Lyme disease, as well as Ehrlichia (canis and ewingii), and Anaplamsa (platys and phagocytophilum) which can produce similar symptoms in pets.   This test looks for antibodies to the Lyme organism.  Antibodies are produced by the body when it is exposed to an infectious agent, and can remain in the body for months to years.  This means that this test does not indicate an active infection, just that the pet has been exposed to Lyme disease at some point in the past.  However, since there can be serious side effects in rare cases that can cause kidney damage, most veterinarians will use a course of antibiotics to treat a positive result in a pet that is showing symptoms.

There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease.  This vaccine must be given before any exposure to Lyme disease however to be effective.  It should be started as a puppy or at the onset of a lifestyle change that would increase exposure in an adult dog, and must be given every year to keep immunity up.

Tick control is also a very important part of preventing Lyme disease.  Using a product that kills ticks before they have been attached for 24-48 hours is vital.  These monthly topical products should be started in spring once we have reached a temperature above freezing for more than 3 days in a row-this usually means March, and should be continued until we are not getting multiple days in a row that are above freezing-generally November in this area.  Examining your pet after excursions into the woods, brush, tall grass, or up to the cabin for any ticks is also recommended, but deer ticks are extremely small and can be easily missed, so prevention is key.

One last point to bring up is that pets cannot give people Lyme disease, but they can be reservoirs for it, so if a tick bites them and then either completes its life cycle and bites a human or produces eggs which are infected and one of the offspring bites a human, this human could get Lyme disease.

Talk to us today about Lyme disease and your pet.  We can help determine a good plan of prevention, whether that includes vaccination, or just flea and tick preventatives.  Also call us if your pet is showing any signs that may indicate tick borne illness so we can test and implement appropriate therapy as soon as possible.

Posted in: Canine Health