Influenza Type A Virus Dog Flu Outbreak
You may be hearing and reading a lot lately concerning reports of a new dog flu (influenza type A) virus which has caused outbreaks at Greyhound tracks throughout the country and now seems to be spreading into the general dog population. Here are some key points about the virus.
- It is an influenza virus and not bacterium. Thus it is not treatable with antibiotics. It is susceptible to two of the most common antiviral drugs, amantidine and Tamiflu. These drugs have not been licensed for use in dogs.
- The virus appears to have mutated from an influenza strain that affects horses.
- It is spread easily where dogs are housed together such as kennel situations and dog parks but can also be passed on the street, in dog runs and even by people transferring the virus from dog to dog. Kennel workers can carry the virus home.
- It can rarely be fatal usually in puppies and old dogs.
- Dogs have no natural immunity to the virus at this time. About 80% of infected dogs will develop symptoms. Incubation period is 2-5 days and dogs can shed virus for up to 10 days after the onset of symptoms.
- The symptoms can be confused with “kennel cough” a common canine illness associated with a different virus and a bacteria, Bordetella. The most common sign is a cough that can persist for up to three weeks regardless of treatment. Affected dogs can have a purulent nasal discharge that seems to resolve with antibiotic treatment.
- Symptoms are coughing and gagging but dogs with canine flu usually run a high fever and have runny noses. The coughing can last from 10-21 days. A few can develop pneumonia which can be fatal.
- The virus is an H3N8 flu closely related to an equine (horse) flu strain. It is not related to typical human flu strains or to H5N1 avian flu that has killed people in Asia. There are no known cases of canine flu infecting people.
- There is currently no vaccine for canine flu. The Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine is the only laboratory doing blood testing for the virus. Testing is done 7 or more days after the onset of symptoms. For more on testing go to www.diaglab.vet.cornell.edu and click on “Testing Services” in the box on the left, then on “Sample Submission Requirements”. Submission information, forms and test fees can be accessed here as well.
- Treatment is supportive consisting of fluid therapy, antibiotics to prevent/treat pneumonia, and routine nursing care.
I would use the normal anti-infective measures such as avoiding letting your dog run loose, avoiding high risk situations such as boarding and grooming areas, avoiding exposure to dogs who appear sick or are coughing, etc. I would also suggest avoiding benched shows for a while. Coughing dogs should not be brought to shows or performance events.