With all of the headlines in the last couple of years about seasonal flu and the swine flu, another influenza virus outbreak has not gotten the attention that it deserved. I'm talking about Canine influenza, or Dog Flu, and it's worth talking to your vet about it.
Canine influenza is similar in many ways to the human types of influenza, both in the ease of spread and the symptoms that it causes. The only main difference is that it causes them in your dog. People are not at risk for dog flu, as there has never been a case of dog-to-human transmission, but humans are able to spread the disease between dogs.
How serious is dog flu?
While most dogs will have a mild form of the disease, one fifth will develop a more serious form. The real problems with dog flu are that nearly all dogs are susceptible, and that dog flu is highly contagious. It spreads easily among dogs, either directly or through airborne transmission. It can also spread on surfaces or by the owner, so any dog that sees other dogs or owners is susceptible. Hotbeds of dog flu spread have been places where a lot of dogs go, groomers, kennels, shelters and dog parks. If you or your dog goes to any of these places, then your dog is at risk.
What are the symptoms?
Most commonly, the symptoms of dog flu are what you would expect from a flu, fever, coughing, runny nose, and aches. However, about one fifth of dogs that are infected develop a serious pneumonia (also like that seen in human flu). This pneumonia can be life threatening, and it requires hospitalization, which can end up being very expensive. Dogs can be contagious before showing symptoms.
My dog is coughing, how do I know if it is the flu?
There are lab tests to confirm canine flu. If you think that your dog might have the flu, ask your vet to check them out, they will be able to an exam and determine if your dog is sick, and if the dog should be tested for flu. Often, canine flu is missed at home or in a shelter because it may be misdiagnosed as kennel cough. As always, if you think that your animal is sick, schedule a visit with your vet.
What are the treatments?
Unfortunately, there are few specific treatments for influenza, and are limited to treating the symptoms. Hydration is important, and sometimes pain killers are prescribed to help the dog remain comfortable. Hospitalization and observation are often necessary in severe cases. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.
Is there a vaccine?
The best way to combat canine flu is through vaccination. The vaccine is a two part injection, given months apart, that usually costs around $50. This has been shown to be protective against the dog flu. Ask your vet about canine influenza vaccine and whether your dog is at risk. MetroPet does offer the vaccine.
The short answer is that it probably is. Canine influenza has been documented in most of the US, Ohio has seen a recent outbreak in 2011, and it is a big problem in the Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey area. Even if it has not been seen in your area, because canine influenza is so contagious, it can easily spread. It wouldn't take much for a sick dog to go on a road trip, or the owner of a sick dog to spread it to another dog. Generally, dogs are spreading the disease before they show symptoms. On the right is a US map of dog flu cases from www.doginfluenza.com
What can I do to help prevent the spread of canine flu?
The same thing that you would do if you had the flu. If you think that your dog is sick, keep them at home and schedule them a doctors visit! Avoid dog parks, kennels, groomers, pet stores, or anywhere that you think your run into other dogs (going to the vet is an exception, but let them know that your dog has a cough). The most important thing is to wash your hands after you pet your dog, and especially before you pet another dog.
Where can I learn more about Canine Influenza?
Below are a couple of links to some medical sources about dog flu