Increased reports of outbreaks and new strains of virus causing the flu call for immediate attention towards canine influenza. Dog owners everywhere need to be aware of this outbreak in order to look for signs and symptoms of the disease and to take swift measures against it.
Although most cases of dog flu are not fatal, like the flu in the case of humans, dog flu makes your dog extremely uncomfortable and sick and that will cause a lot of trouble for you and your dog. To avoid stress, awareness is important regarding the disease, how it spreads, prevention and its cure.
The dog flu, or canine influenza virus, is an infectious respiratory disease caused by an influenza A virus, similar to the viral strains that cause influenza in people. There are two known strains of dog flu found in the United States:
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The H3N8 strain actually originated in horses. The virus jumped from horses to dogs to become a canine influenza virus around 2004, when the first outbreaks affected racing Greyhounds at a track in Florida, and the virus is now found in 40 states in the U.S.
H3N2, on the other hand, originated in Asia, where scientists believe it jumped from birds to dogs. The 2015 and 2016 outbreaks of canine influenza in the Midwest were the result of the H3N2 strain of the virus and continues to spread throughout the United States.
Mode of Transmission
Just like human forms of influenza, dog flu virus is airborne. An affected dog’s respiratory secretions are released into the environment when the dog coughs, barks, or sneezes. From the environment, any canine in the vicinity can inhale the virus and get the flu.
Another mode of transmission is any object that has come in contact with the secretions of a sick dog and is used by a healthy one. This includes the canine’s water and food bowl, collar, and kennel surface, or through contact with people who have had direct contact with an infected dog.
The disease spreads rapidly mostly through the air than infected objects and in crowded areas the likelihood of contracting the disease increases manifold. This is because the air is saturated with the airborne virus and easily enters a healthy dog’s body when it breathes in the same vicinity. Dog shelters, vet clinics and any place with a lot of dogs in it will result in rapid spread of the infection since it is highly contagious especially during the incubation period when there are no symptoms and the dog may seem perfectly healthy but still be a source of spreading the disease through coughing, sneezing and barking.
Incubation Period of the Virus
The incubation period is the time elapsed between exposure to an infectious organism, a chemical, or radiation, and when symptoms and signs are first apparent in the infected organism. In a typical infectious disease, this period is basically that time when the infectious organism is rapidly multiplying inside the host or infected organism to an extent when its presence shows signs and symptoms of the disease caused by that infectious organism.
The incubation period of canine influenza is approximately two-to-four days from initial exposure to the dog flu virus. Dogs with the H3N8 strain of the virus remain contagious up to 10 days after exposure, and dogs with H3N2 remain contagious for up to 26 days. Isolating dogs with H3N2 for at least 21 days is very important to reduce the risk of transmission to healthy dogs.
Despite being highly contagious, not all dogs that become infected with the influenza virus will show symptoms of the virus. About 20-25 percent of dogs infected are asymptomatic, but these dogs can still spread the disease. Therefore, if there is more than one dog at any given location, quarantine procedures for all of them should be applied and followed just to be sure all of the dogs are safe from the virus and disease.
Symptoms of Canine Influenza
In order to check if your dog has influenza, keep an eye on the following signs and symptoms:
- Coughing (both moist and dry)
- Discharge – either through the nose or eyes
- Wheezing or difficulty while breathing
- Signs of tiredness
- Improper intake of diet
Although canine influenza is mostly mild and is not fatal in a healthy dog, severe cases may occur in which other associated diseases are developed in the infected dog such as pneumonia leading to further health complications. So, as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms or your dog otherwise behaving abnormally, visit the vet. It will save you a lot of stress later.
Influenza is a very uncomfortable experience even for humans. It causes us to be irritable and generally upset. It is the same with dogs. Therefore, keeping the dog comfortable in various ways will ease this period of discomfort.
Treatment of Canine Influenza
There is currently no cure for canine influenza or dog flu. Treatment is supportive, it is a joint effort of the vet and the owner of the dog. The veterinarian can advise you on the best ways to keep your dog comfortable during its illness and recovery. Some dogs may require fluids to aid their recovery, as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce fevers. In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed in order to fight off any secondary diseases arising as a result of the flu.
Appropriate quarantine procedures and proper disinfection of the house or any other area where dogs are kept are two important aspects of treating and controlling the disease. This will prevent the spread of dog flu to healthy ones.
Preventive measures include:
- Stay away from crowded places with a lot of dogs around especially where cases of dog flu have been reported.
- Maintaining proper hygiene before touching your dog or its food will prevent the transmission of the disease in case you have come in contact with the virus from another infected dog.
Vaccines are available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza. If your dog participates in dog shows regularly or is around a lot of other dogs, vaccination becomes vital to not only your dog’s health but to the health of other dogs in the vicinity as well.
Also, if there is a known outbreak or chances of an outbreak of the dog flu in your area, vaccination must be seriously considered. All preventive measures including vaccination only reduce the risk of the disease but do not guarantee absolute protection.
With the support of the vet and your own precautionary measures in place, your pet can be saved from a lot of discomfort at the hands of the influenza virus. Awareness regarding contagious diseases is important for early detection and prevention from the prolonged suffering of your pet.
All of the above information nonetheless is not a substitute for a visit to the vet’s clinic. This article only serves as a guide to make you aware of the signs and symptoms as well as treatment and prevention of the virus. Only a visit to the vet can affirm the presence of the disease and further treatment and medication can be decided based on a case by case basis only. The general rule of thumb cannot be applied in such cases.
If you notice signs of respiratory discomfort, lethargy, fever or any other symptoms of flu in your dog, take your dog for a visit to the veterinarian’s clinic as soon as possible and do not visit public places with your dog till otherwise advised by the vet.