Pet Talk: Beware of Dog Flu this time of year
The flu season is rampant across the United States, causing illness in humans in epic numbers. With 80 percent of deaths from the flu being in individuals older than the age of 85, it is still affecting young, healthy individuals, too.
With this flu season also comes a rise in the “dog flu.” As we focus on our own health during this season, what about our furry friends?
The dog flu is on the rise in the United States currently, with more than 50 cases being reported at one San Francisco shelter in the past two weeks. With cases popping up in California, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio, and with the extensive travel of so many pet owners between states, we all need to be prepared because our pets are not immune to the dog flu.
Dog flu is caused by two strains of influenza, H3N2 and H3N8. This virus primarily affects the upper respiratory system and is highly contagious.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, mortality from this virus can be 10 percent of affected animals, with 80 percent of patients that are exposed actually succumbing to the virus.
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With that being said, some exposed patients never develop clinical signs, while others develop either mild or moderate clinical signs.
Just like in humans, pets can have varying levels of the dog flu. Clinical symptoms of this flu are typically respiratory.
Mild cases: These pets typically may show a runny nose, with a dry cough, which can often dissipate without any veterinary intervention.
Moderate cases: In the more severe cases, your pet could present with very high fevers (some as high as 104 degrees), extreme lethargy, inappetence and cough. Because the flu virus attacks the capillaries in the lungs, bloody respiratory discharge is also likely as a symptom of underlying hemorrhagic pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is also very probable.
To summarize, clinical signs of the dog flu are:
Because many of the symptoms of dog flu can mimic other respiratory diseases in your pet, an exam by your veterinarian is critical.
Your veterinarian will quickly do the following:
Get an appropriate history. Has your pet been in a kennel or exposed to an increased number of pets recently?
Full physical examination, establishing the temperature of the pet, heart rate, lung sounds, etc.
Laboratory testing: A complete blood count will reveal the degree of dehydration as well as infection.
Chest X-rays: X-rays allow the opportunity to assess pneumonia.
Various clinical tests will narrow down diagnosis to the flu.
Treatment of the dog flu can also be variable.
For mild cases, typically antitussives or cough medications are administered.
For more aggressive cases, intravenous fluids may be warranted, oxygen therapy, antibiotics and generalized supportive care.
All pets who are found to have the clinical signs of the dog flu should be kept away from other pets for at least 30 days due to the contagious nature of the virus. The virus can be spread by coughing , barking, saliva and even humans can act as vectors for the virus. So be conscious of disinfecting yourself, collars, leashes, bowls and the environment.
Finally, if you know you will be putting your pet in a kennel, traveling with your pet or increasing exposure of your pet to pets who are or may have traveled or been kenneled, then a vaccination is now available.
Visit with your veterinarian on what would be best for your pet. Remember, prevention is the best medicine in many cases.
Have a happy winter.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.