Sick as a dogThe media has been abuzz lately with news of the latest canine influenza outbreak. This disease has been hitting the Chicago area hard over the last month or so, and has many pet owners reeling with questions.

What is this dog flu? Should I be worried? How do I protect my pet? …Well, look no further for your answers.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a Type A influenza virus. There are two different strains of the virus that cause sickness in dogs. These are:

H3N8 strain – This flu strain originated in horses. In 2004 this influenza virus was identified in racing greyhounds. It now appears to be a dog-only strain of the flu. There has been a vaccine developed against this flu strain for dogs deemed to be at high risk of infection.

H3N2 strain – This is an Asian strain of dog flu, previously unseen in the United States until this April. In some instances, this flu bug can infect cats as well as dogs, although no cats have been affected in the current outbreak. There is currently no vaccine specifically for the H3N2 flu strain.

Dogs who have been infected with the dog flu often have a cough, runny nose, and a fever. Not all dogs will show signs of illness. Most dogs experience mild to moderate respiratory signs. A smaller number will develop more severe disease, including pneumonia. To date, six dogs have been reported to have died from an infection in the recent Chicago outbreak. Overall, this is a very small percentage (although devastating to their owners, none the less).

Canine influenza can be spread through respiratory secretions. This means that areas where dogs congregate (kennels, shelters, and dog parks) are locations where transmission most often takes place. Dogs may also be infected if exposed to contaminated objects such as toys, clothing, or water dishes.

Protecting Your Pet from the Dog Flu

While the vast majority of infected dogs do not experience any serious sickness, no one wants their dog to be infected with canine influenza. You can protect your dog from the dog flu in these ways:

  • Keep your pet current on recommended vaccines, including a distemper combination vaccine and Bordetella (canine influenza often occurs in conjunction with other bacteria and viruses in these vaccines)
  • Consider vaccination of your pet against the H3N8 strain of the dog flu, if he or she is deemed to be at high risk (contact your family veterinarian to discuss whether the vaccine would be indicated for your pet)
  • Avoid high-risk areas when possible, especially if your pet if very young, very old, or has an otherwise compromised immune system
  • Seek veterinary care immediately if your dog is coughing or acting sick

This outbreak of sick dogs has everyone a little on edge but, as with most infectious diseases, a little common sense goes a long way. Thankfully, while this dog flu is very infectious, it is easily fought off by most dogs. There is no need to panic at this point, just do your best to protect your pet and stay out of trouble areas when possible.