Canine Influenza (“dog flu”) has been in the news recently following the positive testing of 2 dogs in Maricopa County. This has resulted in significant interest in the disease, as well as increasing questions and concerns from pet owners who have dogs with social lifestyles, including those that visit dog parks, attend doggy daycare, or participate in sporting or show events. To help ensure you have the information you need to help protect the health and well-being of your dog, as well as other pets you may have in your household, please consider this as a helpful “need to know” guide.
Canine Influenza is a relatively new disease and can be caused by two different viral strains, H3N8 and H3N2. Both strains of this virus cause respiratory disease in dogs. Affected dogs may develop coughing, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The signs of infection can resemble those of other well-known respiratory diseases in dogs like Kennel Cough and Valley Fever. With proper medical attention, most dogs will recover just fine. However, in some cases, canine influenza can progress to a more severe condition called pneumonia. Similar to the human flu, the canine flu does not have a specific antidote or treatment. In most cases, the virus simply needs to run its course with special attention given to supportive care and preventing secondary bacterial infections.
H3N2 is highly contagious. It can be spread easily by direct contact with infected dogs (sniffing, licking, nuzzling), through the air (coughing, sneezing, or barking), and contact with contaminated objects such as bowls, toys, and clothing. Thankfully, there is no evidence that either strain of Influenza Virus can be transmitted to people. However, the H3N2 strain has been diagnosed in cats, and it is believed that cat-to-cat transmission is possible with the H3N2 virus.
Don’t panic. While there are likely dogs that have gone undiagnosed, we’re still talking about a very small number of dogs nationwide and even smaller number here in Arizona. The best way to protect your dog is to prevent exposure. This may mean that you temporarily avoid social settings with your dogs. Environments such as doggy day care centers, open-play boarding facilities, groomers, dog parks, dog shows, apartment building common areas and the like can be particularly risky. A vaccine has been recently developed but is not widely used at this time. The decision to vaccinate is largely based on an individual animal’s risk for exposure to the virus. Watch your dog(s) closely for symptoms. If seen, consult your veterinarian ASAP and be conscientious to avoid areas or facilities where dogs can be exposed to the virus.