Many pet owners in Central Florida may not be aware that a strain of the canine influenza virus is sweeping through our community. To help us better understand this potential health concern, one of the veterinary staff at Lake Emma Animal Hospital is here to answer our questions. You can also visit the hospital on Sunday, August 6th, from 9am to noon for their vaccine clinic to help protect your pet.
1. Describe the recent outbreak of canine influenza and the consequences in the local area.
There have been many local impacts of the Canine Influenza virus. A facility that holds adoptions for our community was forced to temporarily close and stop all adoptions when they had a several positive cases. In addition, a large and high quality veterinary office in the area was affected over the July 4th holiday. They had to cease all boarding, daycare, training and medical services for their canine patients for 2-3 weeks while they disinfected their entire facility after the virus spread through their boarding facility. A quote from Dr. Cinda Crawford, D.V.M, Ph.D, Clinical Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine said, “The flu has become endemic and is continually circulating in Chicago and Atlanta. What happens to Orlando depends on the response of the veterinarians and the community. If Orlando can vaccinate 8/10 dogs, you can stop the flu.”
2. What is the canine influenza virus and how is it contracted?
The canine influenza virus (H3N2 CIV) is a very contagious influenza virus that infects dogs. This virus recently emerged in the US in 2015. It has already infected thousands of dogs in more than 30 states. H3N2 CIV has also infected cats. There is no evidence that it can infect people.
H3N2 CIV is spread by direct contact with a sick dog and by contact with an environment or people that are contaminated with the virus. Coughing dogs produce invisible virus-containing mists that travel more than 20 feet in the air, facilitating rapid spread of the virus over distances. This type of virus transmission contributes to a rapid increase in coughing dogs in a kennel situation. The virus can survive in the environment (kennel surfaces, food/water bowls, collars/ leashes, toys, beds) or on people’s clothing and hands for 12 to 24 hours before it dies. It is easily killed by handwashing with soap and water, normal laundering of clothing and bedding, and washing food/water bowls and toys with soap and water
3. What are the symptoms of the canine influenza virus and what should dog owners look out for?
H3N2 CIV causes a respiratory infection in dogs that is also known as “dog flu.” Common symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, and frequent coughing that can last for two or more weeks. Many dogs have a fever, decreased appetite, and lethargy during the first few days of illness. Some dogs have more serious disease and
pneumonia that require hospital care. H3N2 CIV can cause respiratory infections in cats as well. The cats start sneezing and have nasal discharge, but usually do not cough.
4. If your vet or animal hospital is closed, where can you go, what should you do?
If your vet or animal hospital is closed, pet parents can seek help at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic. When you arrive, you would call from your vehicle to notify them that you have arrived with a symptomatic pet. They will then instruct you further as to their protocol but most likely will come to your vehicle to examine your pet. Depending on the severity of your pet’s condition, they will either send you home with a treatment plan or direct you to the University of Florida for hospitalization. The same instructions should apply to your regular veterinarian. Please contact them prior to arriving and follow their instructions. They will most likely have a special area that they are using to assess possible flu cases or, like previously stated, they may examine your pet in your vehicle to prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus in their hospital.
5. If your pup is diagnosed with canine influenza, what are the usual treatments pet owners should expect from their vet? Is there anything pet owners can do at home to help their dog?
Most dogs recover at home without any complications. The most important aspect of home care is to keep your dog isolated from all other dogs for four weeks. While dogs recover from illness in about two weeks, they can remain contagious to other dogs for up to four weeks. If you have other dogs or cats in the house, then all of them must be
isolated in the home for four weeks. Your veterinarian will provide instructions on how to monitor the health of all the pets and when to call about concerns.
About 20% of dogs can progress to pneumonia. Dogs with pneumonia typically have decreased appetite, are very lethargic, and may have labored breathing. Call your veterinarian if you see these signs. These dogs likely need special hospital care for recovery. Fortunately, the mortality rate for H3N2 CIV is low.
6. How can pet owners protect their dog from contracting canine influenza in the first place?
Remain aware of any information about confirmed documentation of H3N2 CIV in your community or communities where you take your dog. If this virus is present in the community, be careful about exposing your dog to events or facilities with other dogs. Knowledge and common sense are your best defenses against canine influenza. The most important step is to vaccinate your dog against the viruses. Just like human flu vaccines, the H3N2 CIV vaccine may not completely prevent infection, but will make it less likely. Additionally, if a vaccinated dog does get infected, the disease is likely to be more mild and of shorter duration. The vaccine can also protect against pneumonia. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccination against H3N2 CIV and other canine
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