As the Canine Flu Outbreak Worsens, What Should You Do?
The Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control is reporting that there have been more than 1,000 cases of canine influenza in the Chicago area in recent weeks. Unfortunately, five dogs have died from the flu during this outbreak.
Canine influenza is a relatively new disease having first been diagnosed in a group of racing greyhounds in 2004. It developed after the equine influenza virus mutated and gained the ability to spread from dog to dog. The disease has been reported in most states and in Washington, D.C. Chicago is just the latest hotspot.
For most dogs, the symptoms associated with canine influenza are indistinguishable from what we traditionally call “kennel cough” — a condition that can be caused by a variety of germs like the parainfluenza virus, or Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. All of these respiratory infections typically make dogs cough, sneeze, have a runny nose, lose their appetite, and be somewhat lethargic, but a small proportion of dogs do go on to develop pneumonia, some of whom die. A laboratory test can determine whether a dog with signs of a respiratory infection has the flu or another condition.
Treatment for canine influenza generally consists of supportive care, rest, and antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections. Severely affected dogs may need to be hospitalized for oxygen therapy and other forms of more aggressive treatment.
In light of the current outbreak, what can owners do to protect their dogs from canine influenza?
If you live in the Chicago area…
1. Keep your dogs as isolated as possible — no doggie daycare, trips to the dog park, stays at the kennel, etc. It is important to realize that dogs may have the virus in their bodies and be contagious even if they don’t show signs of illness. Also, people can transport the virus from one dog to another even though we can’t get sick from it ourselves. Anyone (including you!) who has had contact with other dogs should wash their hands thoroughly before touching your dog.
2. Make sure your dogs are up to date on their canine influenza vaccines. Your dogs may not have gotten this vaccine in the past because it is considered “non-core,” meaning that it is generally only given to dogs who are at higher than average risk for the disease. Dogs in the Chicago area are definitely now at higher than average risk! A previously unvaccinated dog should receive two inoculations 2-4 weeks apart. Annual boosters are recommended unless a dog’s risk factors decrease. The canine influenza vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent dogs from becoming infected with the virus, but it does significantly reduce the severity of disease that can develop as a result.
If you don’t live in the Chicago area…
Stay calm. Ask your local veterinarian whether he or she knows if dogs are being diagnosed with canine influenza in your area. If your town is influenza-free and you have no plans to travel with your dog in the near future, your dog does not need a canine influenza vaccine and can continue with its normal routine. If canine influenza has been seen in your area and your dog has significant dog to dog contact, talk to your veterinarian to determine whether or not vaccination is in your dog’s best interests.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock