How To Keep Your Pup Safe From The Dog Flu

The United States has been having a brutal flu season for 2018 and it’s affecting both pets and humans.

There have been reported outbreaks of canine influenza (CI), also known as dog flu, have been reported n both coasts, with confirmed cases in Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, Washington, and California. Dog flu is a highly contagious viral infection that can affect both dogs and cats, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Here are the things pet owners should look out for this winter.

Dr. John Gicking of BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Florida, said the virus is passed from animal to animal through “respiratory secretions.”  Dogs can spread the virus easily through “barking, coughing and sneezing,” Gicking said. “Contaminated objects, such as water bowls, toys, food, clothing, shoes, and leashes can also harbor the virus and cause transmission.”

Making areas where pets congregate, such as doggy daycares, kennels and dog parks, hot spots for disease transmission.

Gicking said just because your pet has been exposed to a strain of the virus doesn’t mean he will show symptoms. Within one to five days, eighty percent of dogs exposed to the virus will develop signs of the disease, while the remaining 20 percent will show no symptoms whatsoever. If your dog went to the park a week ago, seems as spry as ever, you probably don’t have to worry.

Just like with the human flu, a dog who is not symptomatic can still pass the virus to other animals. Humans that have been in contact with an infected animal can also spread the virus. The virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and 12 hours on hands, the AVMA explains. If your dog has the sniffles, take precautions to wash your clothes with warm water and disinfect your hands and any surfaces, to keep the outbreak in check.

The dog flu, however, has a very low mortality rate of less than 10 percent, and most pups will only contract a mild version.

Here’s how to keep your pets safe:

Symptoms

Canine influenza in its mild form can resemble a kennel cough-type syndrome, where dogs could come down with a soft cough that can last up to a month. Your pup could seem lethargic or down, and have increased eye and nasal discharge and sneezing.

In its more severe form, dogs can have a high fever, develop pneumonia and have trouble breathing, causing them to become dependent on supplemental oxygen, Gicking explained.

Cats too can suffer from similar upper respiratory disease symptoms, such as nasal discharge, congestion, and lethargy.

Diagnosis and treatment

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Contact the family veterinarian for guidance if you suspect your dog or cat may have come down with the flu. Be careful when taking your pup to the vet’s office, this could infect other dogs in the waiting room, and your veterinarian may want to take special precautions when meeting you. Your vet can confirm the virus by running a series of tests. “Usually there is a specific test that looks for the virus itself in the animal’s respiratory secretions, such as nasal swabs — that’s how there’s a confirmed diagnosis,” Gicking said. “There’s also suspicion based upon clinical signs.”

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Since there is no cure for dog flu, it is most important you keep your pets hydrated, well-fed and comfortable while they recover. Veterinarians will provide medicine should the animal experience nausea, administering fluids and prescribing antibiotics to treat any secondary bacterial infections that may develop. Most dogs recover within two to three weeks.

So as not to pass on the virus, dogs should be kept separate from susceptible animals for three to four weeks after recovery. That means not even sniffing another pup on the street, Gicking explained.

Prevention

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There are two different strains of CI currently affecting the U.S. pet population: H3N8, first identified in 2004, and the newer H3N2 first spotted in 2015. There are vaccines available for both, they are not cross-protective, meaning each vaccine only protects against one virus. No vaccine can 100 percent guarantee your pet won’t get the flu, since the virus can change and mutate, or your pet’s immune system could be too slow to react before exposure, Gicking explained.

“In general, vaccines cause mild side effects such as lethargy and malaise but are considered safe,” Gicking stated — so there’s no reason not to vaccinate your dog if he is at risk of exposure. A vaccine isn’t just for your pet — it can protect all his friends, too.

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