The Irreverent Vet | Dog Flu

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The canine influenza virus is on the rise. The simpler term for this illness is one with which you might be familiar: dog flu. You didn’t know that your dog could get the flu? No one did before 2004. That’s when the condition was first discovered. However, a different strain affected horses before that.

Before I talk more about the dog flu, let me introduce myself. I’m the Irreverent Vet. I’m not afraid to tell you what I really think about controversial issues related to pet and dog care. I often have strong opinions. Even if my views are unpopular, they’re always based on science. I think it’s important to let you know the facts so that you can make the best decisions for your family and your furry loved ones.

In this article, I’m going to talk about the dog flu. In 2015, a new strain of this virus was discovered, according to Time. The highly contagious respiratory disease affected hundreds of dogs in the Chicago area. It’s making its way around the U.S. again. At the beginning of the summer of 2017, the dog flu hit Florida and California. Since 2015, cases have been confirmed in more than 30 states. Should you be worried?

Most dogs don’t die from the flu, although six of the dogs in the Illinois outbreak unfortunately did. If the illness becomes severe, your dog could be hospitalized for complications. Old and very young dogs are at the greatest risk. Even if your dog lives through it, this disease can cost you thousands in medical bills and tug at your heartstrings. I don’t know a pet owner who wouldn’t be devastated to see their dog so sick. Find out the symptoms and what you can do to prevent this disease.

Dog Flu Symptoms

How do you know if your dog has the flu? The symptoms are similar to those of human respiratory viruses. Your dog may cough, have a runny nose, or spike a fever. It may be too tired to move and refuse to eat. Of course, if you noticed these symptoms, you would bring your dog straight to the vet. It’s unusual to hear a dog cough or sniffle. The most serious side effect of this illness is pneumonia. About 20 percent of dogs with the flu don’t show any symptoms, though. Still, your infected dog could pass the disease to another animal.

How Does Dog Flu Spread?

Dogs can’t wash their hands. Plus, they’re pretty slobbery, and they’re not careful about putting things in their mouths. Canine influenza spreads through saliva and mucus. If an infected dog coughs or sneezes on your dog, it’s over. Well, it may have just begun. Doctors think that just about every dog that is exposed to the virus does contract it. Like I said before, one in five dogs may not have any symptoms.

Although there have been no documented cases of this flu in humans, people can spread the disease to their dog. Let’s say you work with animals. You’re unaware that Spot has H3N2, the newer strain of the influenza. Spot licks you, sneezes on you, and gets his germy saliva all over your skin and clothes. The microbes only live about two minutes on your skin, and you wash your hands so well that you’re going to remove all traces from them. The virus can live for a day or longer on your clothes, though. You go home to your own little Fluffy, he licks your shirt, and he gets sick.

It’s highly unlikely that your dog will come down with influenza if he stays home all day and isn’t exposed to other animals. Dogs can pass it to cats, though, and your pet could come in contact with it while he’s saying hello to the neighbor’s dog on your morning walk. Your pet is much more prone to coming in contact with the germs if he hangs out in tight quarters with lots of other dogs. The June 2017 Florida outbreak is thought to have started at a dog show. Your dog could catch it at the groomer’s, daycare, animal shelter, boarding kennel, or dog park.

How to Protect Your Pet

What is scary about any virus is that it can mutate. The bug went through five mutations from the time that it only affected horses until it began to affect dogs. It’s already contagious to cats. However, there’s no vaccination for felines.

If your dog has had the flu, it has some immunity, but most dogs in the U.S. haven’t been exposed. Although a vaccine is available, it’s controversial. It’s a relatively new vaccine, and Ronald Schultz, an expert in animal vaccines, says that the virus mutated because horses were over-vaccinated for it. Live viruses were modified and used to vaccinate horses at racetracks. In the grand evolutionary scheme of things, it didn’t take long for the influenza to jump to greyhounds, which shared the tracks with those horses. According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, that’s how the canine flu developed into what it is today.

Mercola Healthy Pets interviewed Schultz, who described the important dog vaccinations. Canine core vaccinations include distemper, parvo, adenovirus, and rabies. The canine influenza vaccine is considered a non-core vaccination. If you want to protect your dog by vaccinating it, you need to administer separate vaccinations for H3N8 and H3N2, says Vet Specialty. That’s a lot of shots. The vaccination is not available in a nasal or topical form. Plus, it doesn’t necessarily prevent the illness. It is just confirmed to reduce the severity of symptoms.

You can keep your dog away from the flu by keeping it away from other canines. If you work with animals, change your clothes before you come home. Wash your hands, arms, and feet before coming into contact with your dog. I wouldn’t recommend vaccinating your pet unless it’s at a high risk of getting the disease.

High-risk dogs include:

  • Those with shortened noses and respiratory tracts, like Pugs and English Bulldogs.

  • Dogs that are often in close quarters with other canines, especially in states where the virus has been confirmed.

  • Puppies or elderly canines that are likely to be exposed to the flu.

The Bottom Line

If you’re like most pet owners whose dogs hang out inside their houses, don’t concern yourself with all the hype just yet. Although the news media makes canine influenza sound terrifying, it has remained relatively contained. Plus, there’s the issue of controversial new vaccines to worry about. Protect your pet by keeping it home as much as possible. If it does show signs of illness, definitely don’t bring him out and about. When it comes to your dog’s health, you can always consult with your own veterinarian. I just think that at this point, there’s no reason to freak out about a flu that has not really affected a large proportion of the pet population just yet.

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