Highly Contagious Canine Influenza Outbreak Hits South Carolina

How to Protect Your Pup From Dog Flu

By now, most pet owners are aware of the dangers of the H3N2 canine influenza outbreak, which has spread to South Carolina and other southeastern states this summer. This new strain of CIV first appeared in Chicago in March of 2015, and it is both more pervasive and more contagious than the previous flu strain, H3N8. Our more regional outbreak can be traced back to dog shows in Florida and Georgia in May of 2017.  So far this spring and summer, there have been over 1,000 cases of suspected dog flu reported in 46 states with a mortality rate of three to five percent. While this rate may seem low, it means that at least 30 to 50 dogs have died this season from a completely preventable disease.

At Ambassador Animal Hospital, we’re taking the canine influenza outbreak seriously, requiring all patients with a cough to be triaged outside our facility, before being cleared for entrance.  We are also recommending that all dogs who are healthy enough to do so receive the dog flu vaccination as part of their annual wellness care. The vaccination can be given to dogs as young as seven weeks old, so be sure to talk to us about the vaccine if you’re bringing a new addition to our office for puppy care.

What is Dog Flu? Frequently Asked Questions.

In our office, we’ve heard all sorts of questions and concerns about the canine influenza outbreak. Of course, the main thing to remember is to stay calm and be a proactive advocate for your dog’s health—dog flu is easily preventable with a safe, affordable vaccine. There are also precautionary measures you can take to reduce your dog’s risk.

Here are a few of the most common questions we hear at our practice:

How does dog flu spread?

Canine influenza has three primary transmission vectors: through the air, through direct contact, and through indirect contact. For example, your dog could contract the flu by being close to a coughing, infected dog or by nuzzling, licking, or sniffing an infected dog. Since the virus can remain active on surfaces for up to 48 hours, and on human hands and clothing for 12 to 24 hours, your dog could also contract the flu from a water dish, leash, chew toy, or human contact. Naturally, this puts highly social dogs and dogs who spend time at boarding facilities, dog parks, Doggie Day Care, and other dog care facilities at higher risk.

What are the symptoms of dog flu?

Dog flu is primarily an infectious respiratory disease. The main symptoms include sneezing, coughing, fever, congestion and nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite. If the infection is mild or in the early stages, the main symptom will likely be a soft cough that persists for 10 to 21 days despite antibiotics or cough suppressants. In its more severe forms, CIV can mimic the clinical signs of pneumonia, such as a high-grade fever and rapid or difficult breathing. There is no specific “flu season” for canine influenza; dogs can contract the virus anytime they’ve been in direct or indirect contact with an infectious dog.

What should I do if I suspect that my dog has contracted the virus?

The earlier you bring your dog to be tested, the better. If you schedule an appointment within 2 to 3 days of your dog showing the clinical signs of canine influenza, we submit titers to a laboratory for testing.  If it’s been a week or more, it can be very difficult to confirm that your dog ever had influenza.  There is no specific treatment for canine influenza, but early diagnosis also helps us provide better supportive care, making your dog more comfortable and minimizing the risk of related infections and complications.  

What can I do to prevent dog flu?

The most effective way to prevent dog flu is to schedule your dog for the CIV vaccination, especially if your dog is considered high risk (active or social dogs, young or old dogs, dogs that groom, board, or travel). You can also help prevent the spread by of canine influenza by washing your hands thoroughly after petting dogs, as well as avoiding dog care facilities and boarding facilities that don’t require the vaccination, don’t practice proper hygiene, or don’t have a plan in place for isolating dogs showing signs of respiratory illness. At Ambassador Animal Hospital, for example, we have been requiring dogs who are exhibiting symptoms to stay outside until properly triaged by our medical team.  If your dog already has H3N2, you should quarantine your dog for two to three weeks and wash all toys and bowls carefully to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Does the dog flu vaccine prevent all strains of the flu?

There is an effective bivalent canine influenza vaccine that protects against both H3N2 and the previous flu strain, H3N8. In order to be effective, the initial canine influenza vaccine requires two injections, given two to four weeks apart, and annual boosters thereafter.

Is the dog flu vaccine safe?

The vaccine for dog flu is considered a killed (or inactive) vaccine. This means the vaccine is made from proteins or other small pieces taken from the virus and then killed rather than using a weakened form of the virus. Killed vaccines are incredibly safe and less likely than live vaccines to cause harmful side effects. However, it is still up to you to determine the risk factors and decide whether the canine influenza vaccine makes sense for your dog.

According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), canine influenza is an emerging threat for dogs. Virtually 100% of dogs exposed to the virus will contract the disease, though only 80% will exhibit any symptoms with the other 20% becoming asymptomatic carriers of the flu. The dog flu vaccine is the safest, most affordable, and most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease. If you would like your dog to receive the influenza vaccine, contact us today to schedule an appointment or ask us about the vaccine at your dog’s next wellness exam.

 

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