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home : health : health May 26, 2018

2/27/2018 2:02:00 PM
Canine influenza hits Oregon
Elsie is an older dog who could benefit from a flu shot. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Elsie is an older dog who could benefit from a flu shot. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

This year the flu has taken its toll and spread rapidly across the country, killing young and healthy people along the way.

The flu is affecting pets, too. Dogs across the country are coming down with flu-like symptoms due to widespread canine influenza. The flu strain is different than the one affecting humans. But it's just as dangerous and even more contagious among dogs. And it can affect cats also.

Dogs, like us, are social creatures; and all social dogs, especially those who travel, visit dog parks, doggie daycare, boarding kennels, and grooming facilities - are at risk for contacting the newer highly contagious H3N2 dog flu. The viral infection is spread through barking, coughing, and sneezing when pets are in close contact with infected animals.

This canine H3N2 was first identified in the United States in March 2015 following an outbreak of respiratory illness in dogs in the Chicago area. Veterinarians in and around the Chicago area noticed an increase in the number of dogs coming into their clinics for respiratory illness.

The dogs had symptoms involving the respiratory system including coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. And more severe signs, including pneumonia, were seen in more severe cases.

Prior to this, reports of canine H3N2 influenza virus were restricted to South Korea, China, and Thailand.

Following the initial diagnosis in Chicago, more cases of canine influenza were reported in several states. In early 2016, a group of shelter cats in Indiana were diagnosed with H3N2 canine influenza. It is believed the virus was transmitted to them from infected dogs.

In May 2017, canine H3N2 influenza was diagnosed in dogs in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, and Illinois. This was the same strain of H3N2 involved in the 2015 outbreak in Chicago.

"The Canine flu is currently experiencing intense flare-ups in defined geographic locations," said Amy Glaser, director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Center.

Then this past January the San Francisco SPCA announced that cases of dog flu had been confirmed in the Bay Area and encouraged pet parents to contact their veterinarians if their pets display symptoms of the virus.

"The outbreak in the Bay Area wasn't so far south of us," said Dr. Carl E. Berg, DVM and owner of Sisters Veterinary Clinic. "And now the canine influenza has hit an area in Southern Oregon. The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association recently came out with a statement that said Oregon veterinarians should consider vaccinating their patients for canine influenza."

There are currently two strains of canine influenza virus that have been identified in the United States: H3N2 and H3N8. The new vaccine covers both. And the existing strains of dog flu cannot be transmitted to humans.

The virus spreads rapidly, especially at boarding facilities, groomers, doggy daycare, dog parks and other spots where dogs co-mingle.

Dr. Berg also noted that the canine influenza is part of the canine respiratory disease complex, such as Bordetella, but is a newer emerging strain.

This highly contagious virus that began as an isolated case of respiratory disease in Chicago has now become a nationwide health concern for all dogs.

Dr. Dana Bailey, associate veterinarian at Broken Top Veterinary Clinic, said, "We have been informing our clients about canine influenza and that they can receive a flu vaccine for their dog. Right now, it's not considered a core vaccine, but rather a non-core or lifestyle vaccine."

Core vaccines are the usual annual vaccines and are recommended for all pets with an unknown vaccination history, as they protect against diseases that infect dogs or cats of all life stages and lifestyles. And non-core vaccines are optional vaccines that should be considered in light of the exposure risk of the animal.

The new flu vaccine is annual, with a booster one month later after the first vaccine.

To keep pets safe, more pet-care facilities are now requiring canine influenza vaccinations for all dogs, similar to requirements for Bordetella - another highly contagious respiratory virus.

Canine influenza is a highly contagious virus. All it takes is one interaction with an infected dog or infected surface for your pet to contract the disease.

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