Answering Your Canine Influenza Questions

You've probably heard the words "Canine Influenza Virus" floating around in your community, however you may not know what it is, how it's spread, or the risks associated with having your dog exposed. Our Director of Medical Operations, Dr. Charlotte Rubin, answers all your burning questions and more below: Canine influenza (“dog flu”) has been in the news recently following several outbreaks in various parts of the country including the bay area. This uptick in cases has led to increasing questions and concerns from dog owners, especially those that have dogs with social lifestyles, including visits to dogs parks, doggy daycare, boarding facilities and groomers.

What is canine influenza?

Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is caused by the canine influenza virus (CIV). There are 2 known strains of CIV in the United States:

  • CIV H3N8 – this strain is of equine origin and was first reported in greyhounds in Florida in 2003. Since then it has spread to at least 41 states.
  • CIV H3N2 – this strain is of avian origin and was first found in the United States in 2015. By April of 2016, it had spread to 30 states.

How is canine influenza spread and what are the risks if I choose not to vaccinate?

Dog flu is spread the same way as the human flu or common cold. It is most commonly spread through direct contact (sniffing, licking); through the air (coughing, sneezing, barking); via contaminated surfaces (sharing bowls or toys); or through contaminated humans (on their hands and clothing).

Dogs in the United States have no natural immunity to the CIV H3N2 strain of dog flu so 100% of dogs exposed become infected. 20% of those dogs will not show any signs of illness but they will still shed the virus. Of the 80% of dogs that show clinical signs (coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, inappetence) most will recover. 8% of the dogs showing signs will get potentially fatal secondary infections (pneumonia). The CIV H3N2 strain of flu may persist in a dog for up to 24 days which means the dogs is contagious and spreading the disease throughout that time period.

Should you vaccinate your dog?

Just like human flu shots, CIV vaccines may not completely prevent canine influenza but will make it less likely. And if a vaccinated dog does get the flu, the signs are likely to be milder.

Can CIV infect humans?

To date, there is no evidence that CIV can infect humans, and there has not been a single reported case of H3N2 or H3N8 CIV infection in a human. However, influenza viruses can change so that they can infect other animals, potentially including humans. For this reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring the situation.

What you can do to help prevent spread of canine flu:

  • Keep your dog at home if she/she has signs of a respiratory infection, and contact a veterinarian regarding appropriate care and evaluation
  • Sanitize hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and wash clothes after coming in to contact with any dogs.
  • Vaccination is key to helping prevent the spread of canine influenza. Contact your veterinarian and ask if the CIV vaccine is right for your dog.

If you have additional questions about the virus, please feel free to contact us or consult with your veterinarian.

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