Everyone’s tired of hearing about the flu. After this past flu season, it’s hard to even hear the word without thinking about all the people you know that have missed work or school because of flu-related sickness. But now you hear your dog can get the flu? What’s up with that?
First of all, what is flu? Since H1N1 hit the headlines last year, we’ve been subject to news reports, newspaper articles and internet stories that tell us exactly that. Recap: it’s caused by a virus called influenza, it spreads easily and it affects mainly the respiratory system.
Simple, right? Not quite – first of all, it doesn’t just affect people. Horses, pigs, cattle, birds and, yes, that’s right, dogs, can also catch their own specific types of flu. The different strains of influenza virus are named for two specific proteins that vary depending on the specific virus (these are what the H and the N indicate). Where the human “swine flu” is H1N1, the canine flu is H3N8.
How does Fido catch CIV?
Because of how easily the virus can be transmitted, dogs that share air-spaces are the most at risk for infection. A dog infected with the H3N8 virus can spread the virus around an animal shelter, boarding home or even a dog park rapidly and effectively. Not all dogs that contract the virus will show symptoms, but they can still be carriers for the virus.
So, how can you tell if your dog has been infected with H3N8 virus? Well, without a clinical test you can't be 100% sure, but there are some symptoms that infected dogs may show one or more of:
• runny nose
The illness can progress rapidly so having your pet seen by a vet soon after noticing any of these problems is important. As with any systemic illness, very old and very young pets are most at risk so pay special attention to these individuals.
While the signs listed above are common for many diseases, your vet can assess whether the history of exposure and the timing of your pet getting sick correlates with them being at risk for CIV infection. If they feel it appropriate, they will recommend blood testing (usually CIV testing requires a blood test on initial presentation, then another in two weeks) and probably some medical treatment.
Treatment tends to be aimed at helping your pet fight the virus himself. Because we can’t treat most viral diseases directly, treatment supports your pet’s normal functions while its immune system eliminates the infection. Giving your pet additional fluids (often by IV), helping him reduce fever with anti-inflammatory medications and then combating any secondary bacterial infections with antibiotics are the mainstays of treatment. Most cases will resolve with home-care within a few days while a few will need hospitalization while he recovers.
What to do?
The logical question on your part, of course, is, “Surely the best way to look after my canine compadre is to prevent him from getting the disease altogether?” Absolutely; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
Let’s take the basic facts of infection: your pet can be infected by another dog through direct contact, sharing air-space or through the infected pet’s saliva on food bowls, toys or even people’s hands.
So, how do you avoid your pet being infected? If your pet is a home-body and never leaves the couch, there’s very little cause for concern. Similarly, if you carry your Chihuahua around in his own custom carrier, he’s highly unlikely to be infected. The group most at risk includes pets that stay at boarding kennels, go to day-care, attend mixed obedience classes, or are in any other situation that results in dogs mixing or spending prolonged periods of time “breathing that same air”. Obviously, to help reduce the risk of infection, all good pet facilities thoroughly clean all bowls and toys that could be used by different pets as well as washing their hands between handling pets (and it makes good sense that pet owners should do the same).
The good news is that, if your pet is considered “at-risk”, there’s now a vaccine available to help protect your pet. In fact, many kennels and doggy day-care facilities are now requiring a CIV vaccine before they allow your pet to stay with them. (To be effective, the vaccine requires two injections two to four weeks apart; contact your veterinarian for more information.)
In summary, while CIV is nothing to be *sneezed* at, you can ensure that you keep your pets safe by staying informed and following your vet’s advice.