Dog Flu Should Wainwright Alberta Pet Owners be Concerned

Canine influenza is an emerging disease that needs continued surveillance but fortunately, at this time, is of minimal concern in Canada. That is good news for Wainwright Pet Owners but you should be informed as every year there are different areas in the United States that have outbreaks and as we all know , dog travel far and wide, and rescues come from all over.

Will Canine Influenza Spread into Canada and What Can We Do About It?

The short answer is who knows? It’s always hard to predict what will happen with influenza viruses. The spread of the H3N8 canine flu virus has been slow and sporadic and has yet to establish itself in Canada. This new H3N2 strain is more concerning because it seems to be more transmissible, and the Midwest US outbreak is unlike what has been seen in the past with H3N8.

What is canine influenza?

Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by an Influenza Type A virus.  It can easily spread from infected dogs to other dogs through direct contact, nasal secretions (through barking, coughing or sneezing), contaminated objects (kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes), and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs of any breed, age, sex or health status are at risk of infection when exposed to the virus.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms  resemble canine infectious tracheobronchitis (“kennel cough”). The illness may be mild or severe, and infected dogs develop a persistent cough and may develop a thick nasal discharge and fever (often 104-105oF). Other signs can include lethargy, eye discharge, and reduced appetite.

Some dogs may not show signs of illness, but can shed the virus and infect other dogs.

Most dogs recover within 2-3 weeks. However, secondary bacterial infections can develop and may cause more severe illness and pneumonia. Anyone with concerns about their pet’s health, or whose pet is showing signs of canine influenza, should contact their veterinarian.

Cats infected with H3N2 canine influenza show symptoms of upper respiratory illness, including a runny nose, congestion, malaise, lip smacking, and excessive salivation.

Is your dog at risk?

Virtually all dogs are susceptible, because immunity has not developed in the canine population at large. Additionally, influenza viruses have the potential for antigenic drift, allowing them to evade host defenses. Whether this will happen with canine influenza is difficult to determine. Somewhere between 50-80% of infected dogs show clinical signs of disease, mostly the mild form. Approximately 50% of infected dogs seroconvert without showing any signs of disease.

Is canine influenza virus transmissible from dogs to humans or other animals?

There is no evidence that the disease is spread to people.

The Best Prevention is Infection Control:

Most cases of coughing and respiratory illness that require veterinary care in Wainwright are due to the kennel cough complex. The infectious agents causing this are equally contagious so the same control measures should be taken anytime your dog is shows signs of sudden respiratory illness.

  • If your dog is sick, keep it away from other dogs. Influenza viruses are only shed for a short period of time, so keeping sick dogs away from other dogs for 7-14 days will help.
  • If your dog has been exposed to dogs that might have been infected, keep it away from other dogs. It doesn’t matter if your dog is healthy. Peak flu shedding can occur very early in disease, and a lot of virus can be shed in the 24 hours before the dog starts to show signs of illness. So, keeping exposed animals away from others for 7-14 days after exposure is also a good idea, just in case.
  • Don’t travel to an endemic region with your dog.  If you are going on a trip to Chicago or other area where H3N2 is active and you don’t need to bring your dog along, then don’t risk exposing your dog, and/or possibly bringing the virus home with it.
  • Don’t travel out of an endemic region with your dog. Likewise, if you live in an area where H3N2 is active, don’t take your dog on a trip anywhere else. If it was infected before leaving, it could take the virus to a new region.
  • Don’t import dogs from shelters, puppy mills or similar facilities in areas where H3N2 is active.  Animals from these facilities are at higher risk for carrying many diseases, now including canine flu.

What about the canine influenza vaccine?

 There are vaccines against the H3N8 and H3N2 strain of canine influenza for dogs but currently none licensed for cats and only the H3N8 strain is currently available in Canada. It is not known at this time if vaccination with the H3N8 strain will provide protection against the H3N2 strain.

Currently, the best prevention is to avoid taking your dog to endemic areas in the United States. Please check with the local state veterinary association before you travel with your pet.

Hope this helps to keep your Wainwright and area pets safe when you travel.

Dr. Judy McFarlen (Wainwright Veterinary Services)

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