It's true... the canine influenza "bug" has crossed the border into Canada and it's definitely something we should start talking about. No, it's not in our area of the country yet but all it takes is for one dog to go on vacation with their family to an affected area and bring it back to NB or the gradual spread across our great nation - 1 sick dog at a time.
Canine Influenza (dog flu) has two known strains to be concerned about:
- H3N8 originally an equine flu virus that jumped to dogs
- H3N2 originally an avian flu virus that jumped to dogs
There is no evidence that either strain can be transmitted to humans BUT humans CAN transport it from one dog to another.
Having said this, we have to consider that it's headed this way and it's something that our local area vets have never really had to deal with before unless they have worked elsewhere. Many are familiar with the general symptoms but have not had to treat it first-hand.
If it comes to our area, everyone with a dog who goes outside will run the risk of exposure to a dog carrying the virus or to a location when a carrying dog has shed the virus on an object like a street sign or fire hydrant. The infected dog may be showing symptoms or may be asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) for the flu, but still contagious. Symptoms usually start out very similar to CIRDC (Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex a.k.a canine cough) so it can be all too easily be initially dismissed as such. In addition to a cough, eye discharge and a runny nose that come with a "cold" most flu cases present with a few additional clues. Prolonged coughing fits, difficulty breathing, lethargy and decreased appetite should be more causes for concern. Canine influenza has about an 80 percent infection rate and this is because it is a relatively new disease, and natural immunity has not occurred.
There is a vaccine out there to better protect our canine furry family members but many local vets don't have it on-hand because they have never needed it. This is where we need to open to doors of communication and start asking our local vets if they can get it should canine influenza come to our area and how quickly could they immunize your dog. Keep in mind that for a first time vaccine, it takes several weeks to allow for peak protection.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of exposure:
- Keep your dog at home if they are sick or if there is a confirmed outbreak. There is a 2-4 day incubation period for canine influenza, and that perfectly healthy looking dog may be shedding the virus all over the place. Some dogs may have the flu but be completely asymptomatic. No greetings means no nose-to-nose, no saliva exchange (bowls, toys, etc.), and no butt sniffing. Since the virus is exchanged through respiratory secretions, stay out of sneezing, coughing and barking "spit" range.
- Keep your dog under close by. This means a flat leash, shortened as much as possible when passing other dogs. If you’re using a 15’ flexi-leash, you’re has way too much room to roam. If you think you don’t need to keep your dog on a leash because “he always listens to you”, please re-think this opinion. You may be willing to risk your own dog’s health by letting him roam freely, but it’s unfair to other owners to let your dog be Patient Zero because he/she likes to roam around the neighbourhood and smell everything in sight.
- Good hygiene is your friend. Fomites are your enemy. Wash your hands, wipe your shoes, and clean your surfaces, especially if you have contact with other dogs. The virus can be transported between dogs via humans on our clothing, skin, footwear, etc. So many people say something like "I don't know where they caught it. They haven't been anywhere but at home." This may very well be true but you could have easily brought it home with you after visiting with a friend who shook your hand after petting their own infected pooch 5 hours earlier. The virus is live and infectious on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothes for 24 hours and on hands for 12 hours.
- Evaluate your risk. We highly encourage vaccination whether you have a stay-at-home or highly social dog, ask your vet about vaccinations.Although the vaccination cannot absolutely eliminate the chances of your dog coming down with the flu, it certainly increases their chances of keeping it out of their system and mitigate the effects of the flu if they do get the virus. Be sure to inquire about the vaccine that covers both of the strains (called a “bivalent”) and keep in mind that peak immunity won’t kick in until a couple of weeks after the vaccine has been administered. Most often the vaccine is a two step process involving an initial vaccine and the a booster a few weeks later so waiting until it has already come to you local area to inquire with your vet might not be okay.
Now this isn't meant to be a post of doom and gloom but instead a post of education and awareness... to get the ball rolling so to speak. The more we know, the better choices we can make. So let's get talking about it with our pet care providers so we aren't taken by surprise. Always better to be prepared with the information and not need it as opposed to not having the information and needing it.
Until next time.... let this happy tails wag on.....