Basic Pet Care

What's New About Dog Flu

What's New About Dog Flu

The newest thing about dog flu is that a new strain of Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) started to appear in dogs in March 2015. A highly contagious respiratory disease, the H3N2 virus spread to dogs in 24 states in just nine months. And a new vaccine to protect healthy dogs from contracting this flu didn't begin to reach veterinary offices till late November 2015.

What are Flu Symptoms in Dogs?

Coughing and sneezing, a runny nose or eyes, a lack of energy, decreased appetite and a fever over 103 degrees (a dog's normal temperature is between 100 and 102.5 degrees) may all indicate the presence of flu.

These symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks depending on the severity of the disease. If your dog shows such signs, don't hesitate to make an appointment with your veterinarian; early treatment can result in a better outcome. Treating an advanced case can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 or more. Fortunately, the mortality rate for dogs with CIV infection is low.

How Does a Dog Catch the Flu?

Canine Influenza is highly infectious and spreads very quickly from dog to dog, most commonly via direct contact (sniffing, licking, nuzzling) with an infected dog, through the air (coughing, sneezing, barking) and via contaminated surfaces (sharing water bowls or toys). A human who's been in contact with a sick dog can transmit the virus on his or her hands or clothing.

How Can Your Veterinarian Tell It Is Flu?

A veterinarian will swab inside your dog's nose and mouth in the clinic and send these samples to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory to determine the nature of the infection.

A Baffling Diagnosis

No one knew that the H3N2 virus had come to America until a number of dogs in Chicago fell sick with the same unusual respiratory illness early in March 2015 — and it was spreading fast. Preliminary testing showed that it wasn't the familiar H3N8 strain of Canine Influenza — nor was it distemper or bordetella — and veterinarians eager for a diagnosis reported these perplexing lab results.

What was also curious was that dogs showing signs of this new flu weren't homeless shelter dogs, but beloved ones who belonged to individuals.

Identifying the New Flu

In late March 2015, the Merck Animal Health Diagnostic Support Program began testing samples from more than 650 dogs. Multiple other laboratories contributed testing information as well, to enable a more complete picture of the new flu's distribution and activity.

Kathleen Heaney, D.V.M., Director, Companion Animal Technical Services at Merck Animal Health, said, "We came to realize what was actually unfolding was the transmission of an influenza strain — H3N2 — never before seen in the United States.

"Based on the highly contagious nature of the strain, the severity of clinical disease and the rate at which we were seeing newly diagnosed cases, we knew we needed to act fast — both to help veterinarians and pet owners contain the outbreaks and develop a vaccine to protect dogs against it."

Thanks to the efforts of teams of veterinarians at Cornell, the University of Wisconsin and nine other institutions a new H3N2 Canine Influenza Virus vaccine was developed, tested for safety and efficacy and quickly approved by the USDA. It became available to veterinarians in the United States on November 23, 2015.

Is Your Dog at Risk?

The more your dog socializes with other dogs, the higher the risk of contracting H3N2 Canine Influenza and other contagious respiratory diseases. An infected dog who barks or coughs or drools can spread it to nearby dogs. Direct contact is not necessary.

Unlike other respiratory diseases, H3N2 is contagious for up to 24 days. The infection can spread quickly at any location where multiple dogs mingle.

Does your dog...

  • Spend time in doggie day care
  • Overnight at a boarding facility or pet hotel
  • Attend training classes
  • Visit a dog run or park
  • Travel to dog-friendly events
  • Attend dog shows or competitions
  • Visit a groomer or a pet store
  • Nuzzle other dogs during walks

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, your dog is at a higher risk of contracting Canine Influenza and other respiratory diseases.

How Can You Protect Your Dog from the Flu?

Dogs have no natural immunity to CIV and virtually 100% of those exposed to it become infected. Of those, about 20% will show no signs yet will still spread the disease, while the vast majority — 80% — will develop recognizable symptoms. Up to 8% of infected dogs may die from complications or the disease, primarily from its advance to pneumonia.

"The best protection against the Canine Influenza Virus for your dog and the dogs in your community is vaccination, which works by giving a dog immunity to fight off the virus," explains veterinarian Jill Lopez.

The Canine Influenza vaccines consist of an initial shot followed by a booster 2 to 4 weeks later. Puppies as young as six weeks can tolerate the vaccines. After that, an annual dose protects a pet for a year.

Just like human flu shots, the vaccines may not completely prevent the flu but will make contracting it less likely. And if a vaccinated dog catches the flu, symptoms are likely to be milder.

How Do You Care for a Dog Diagnosed with the Flu?

As with other viruses, there are no specific drugs to treat dog that have already contracted Canine Influenza infections at this time.

The illness must simply run its course. Treatment options are focused on managing the symptoms, providing supportive care and making sure the dog is as comfortable as possible, remains hydrated, and eats well; those things help boost a dog's immune system so she can fight the virus on her own.

Dogs with Canine Influenza that have a thick nasal discharge or signs of pneumonia are usually given an antibiotic because they are likely to have a secondary bacterial infection. Some dogs with severe illness may require hospitalization and intravenous fluids to combat dehydration. In the more severe cases of pneumonia, oxygen therapy may be necessary.

And be patient; it can take several weeks for your dog to improve. In the interim, keep her away from other dogs, feed her well, wash your hands frequently and vow to vaccinate her after she recovers.