Canine Influenza – The Truth behind the Scare

One cannot turn on the TV or look at any social media outlet without seeing something regarding the influenza outbreak affecting dogs. With all the information out there it can become overwhelming and scary for owners to know what is the truth, what is exaggeration, and what is simply wrong.

We want to ease your fears with information that you can trust. We know that the best way to face fears is with the correct knowledge.

Flu Facts

  • There are 2 current strains: H3N8 and H3N2
  • The strain being reported in the current outbreaks is the H3N2, earlier outbreaks were due to the other strain.
  • Highly contagious between dogs
  • Mortality rate (percentage of dogs will die from it) is less than 10%
  • First occurred in the USA in 2004 in racing greyhounds, and is believed to have mutated from the common horse flu to an illness that can infect dogs
  • An outbreak occurred in 2015 in the Chicago area and is now spread throughout the US
  • There is no proof that it was introduced by rescued/imported dogs from Asia
  • H3N2 is an adaptation of the bird flu that infects dogs.
  • Does NOT appear to infect humans
  • Cats can become infected but it is extremely rare (only 1 case has been reported)
  • Much like human flu in that it causes acute respiratory illness BUT is not a seasonal flu.
  • Signs and symptoms resemble that of kennel cough (a common respiratory illness in canines), but is accompanied with more fever, lethargy and decreased appetite.

Transmission Facts

  • Spread by coughing/sneezing up to approximately 5 feet from the infected animal. It is also on contaminated objects (bowls, blankets, floors, cages and the animal’s coat), and people (clothes, shoes, hands).
  • Secretions can live up to: 48 hours on hard surfaces, 24 hours on clothing/blankets, 12 hours on hands
  • Incubation period is 2-4 days after contact. During this time there are no signs/symptoms shown and the highest amounts of the virus are shed.
  • Dogs will shed the virus and are infective before they feel sick, and look apparently “normal.”
  • 20-25% may harbor the flu, show no clinical signs of sickness, but still be carriers of the virus and able to infect other dogs
  • Flu Virus Attack Track
    Virus → Respiratory tract → infects and replicates the cells → Inflammatory response (rhinitis, tracheitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis) → Secondary bacterial infection (nasal discharge and coughing)

Signs and Symptoms Facts
Mild Signs and Symptoms

  • Cough (wet and moist or dry)
  • Cough lasting 10-21 days even with treatment
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Not eating/drinking
  • Low grade fever

Severe Signs and Symptoms

  • Pneumonia
  • High grade fever, 104 or over
  • Increased breathing
  • Increased breathing effort
  • Consolidation of lung lobe(s)

Diagnosing Facts

  • Cannot be solely diagnosed on symptoms alone
  • Within the first 4 days of clinical signs, a swab sample can be taken from either the nose or the throat.
  • Blood samples are the most reliable and sensitive and can be taken either within the first 7 days of clinical signs or 10-14 days later.
  • There are currently NO rapid response tests available

Treatment Facts

  • Just like with the human flu the most important treatment is supportive care –
    • Fluids: to help prevent dehydration.
    • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) to reduce fever and inflammation.
    • Antibiotics to treat the secondary bacterial infections commonly associated with a flu infection.
  • Most dogs make a full recovery in 2-3 weeks
  • The antiviral drug used in human treatment is not used in canines as there is very little known about the usage, efficacy and safety in dogs.

Prevention/Control Facts

  • Dogs showing symptoms and/or that have been diagnosed with the flu need to be isolated/ quarantined from other pets.
  • Owners need to keep dogs with symptoms or that could have been exposed away from shelters, boarding facilities, doggie daycare facilities, groomers, dog parks, doggie classes and any places that dogs can be in close contact.
  • If you are bringing your dog into the veterinarian for the possible flu please stay in your car and call into the office to tell the receptionist you are outside. This will allow the staff to prepare for your dog to be seen. Do not be alarmed if your dog is taken straight into an isolation room.

Vaccine Facts

  • The vaccine for the canine flu works very much like the human flu vaccine.
    It does not prevent the flu in every case. It does decreases the severity and the duration of the flu. It also aids in decreasing the amount and length of time the virus is shed.
  • The vaccine that is currently being administered is for the H3N8 strain.
  • There is not a vaccine for the other strain H3N2.
  • There is no proven cross protection between the two strains with the vaccine, however, anecdotal reports suggest it may decrease likelihood of infection.
  • The flu vaccine is not a core required vaccine. It is considered a “lifestyle” vaccine. That means that it is highly recommended for dogs that are at an increased risk due to their habits. These risk factors include going to a groomer, boarding facilities, doggie daycare, dog parks, dog classes, or come in contact with other dogs other than in the same household.

Equipping yourself with the right facts and knowledge will help ease the fear of the canine flu. If you have questions or concerns please call your veterinarian.