Did you know?
That was the question posed to me last week at a class I was taking downtown. With all the talk about the H1N1 Swine Flu and the annual flu vaccine reminders on billboards it's no wonder that I was asked if dogs and cats can get the flu. Surprisingly enough there is a flu form that affects dogs. The first case of H3N8 Canine Influenza was first detected in racing greyhounds back in 1999. H3N8 is believed to have originated as an Equine Influenza that jumped species to greyhounds, mutated and has since become contagious to all dogs. The first major outbreak of the virus happened in 2004 and it continues to make an appearance throughout the country in varying degrees. The clinical signs for Canine Influenza are much the same as kennel cough, which makes the virus difficult to diagnose with out a lab test. But as of yet, we haven't seen that many cases in our ER.
Let me tell you why.
First, let me put your fears to rest and tell you that humans can not catch the canine flu. Phew, one less thing to worry about. But, your dog can catch canine influenza from other dogs. Just like humans some dogs can get the virus and have no physical symptoms while other dogs can get pretty sick and even develop a secondary bacterial infection that requires antibiotics and intensive medical care.
As I mentioned, symptoms of the canine influenza look very similar to other upper respiratory illnesses and the treatment would be very similar as well. Symptoms could include cough, runny nose or nasal discharge, increased breating rate, fever, and just feeling kind of blah. With those symptoms the best treatment is to make sure your dog stays hydrated and keep him or her away from other animals for a few days. However, if the cough gets worse, or your dogs normal attitude and behavior continues to be off, a visit to your family veterinarian is advised. If a secondary infection has developed into bronchitis or pneumonia then a full spectrum antibiotic will be prescribed and your furry friend may need to be hospitalized for continued supportive care.
Canine influenza can be spread through sneezing and coughing by contagious animals or through saliva left on balls or sticks when playing. Humans can bring it home on clothes or toys that were in contact with an infectious dog. So as with humans, if you are around dogs that are coughing or sneezing a lot be sure to wash balls, bedding, favorite blankets etc to minimize the spread of the virus.
The moral of the story...let's hope we all avoid the flu, humans and canines too.