Risk of Canine Influenza in Northern California

While there was an outbreak of canine influenza in Southern California earlier this year, and another case just this month, we have yet to hear about any in Northern California. Nevertheless, your pet may be at risk so it is important to minimize the likelihood of infection and understand how the illness presents and progresses. Because there have been several outbreaks of the virus across the country in recent years, many believe it’s just a matter of time before we see cases of canine influenza in Northern California.

What is Canine Influenza: Canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease. Currently, there are two known strains of the virus (H3N8 and H3N2). This disease is relatively new to the United States, with cases first documented in 2004.

How is Canine Flu spread: Much like the human flu that we are familiar with, canine influenza can be spread by both direct contact and indirect contact to the virus. This means a dog could catch the flu directly from coming into contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected dog (a bark, cough, or sneeze). A dog can also be infected by coming in contact with an OBJECT that has been in contact with an infected dog. (These objects can be anything from a ball, leash, toy, water bowl, clothing, floor, or the hand of a person that has come in contact with an infected dog.) Unfortunately, there is no “season” for the canine influenza virus and it can be spread year round.

Symptoms of Canine Influenza: The symptoms of the flu can range from mild to severe. In more mild cases dogs developed a cough (which can last up to a month). They may also experience fever, lethargy, eye and nasal discharge. In more severe cases, a dog may experience very high fevers, pneumonia, and in very rare circumstances the canine flu is fatal.

What makes canine influenza even more contagious is that a dog that has been infected with the virus may not be showing symptoms of illness. It may take up to 5 days for a dog to start showing any signs that they are ill. However, the infected dog can spread the disease within 2 to 3 days after initially being exposed to the virus. In a small number of dogs (~20%) there are no symptoms present at all and these animals are still able to spread the disease.

Treatment for Canine Influenza: The treatment for the virus will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. Dogs with more mild symptoms may need oral medications and home care, while more severe cases may require a dog to be hospitalized. Regardless of the symptoms, all dogs with canine influenza need to be quarantined for 4 weeks to prevent the spread of the disease.

Is my dog at risk for catching the flu: This is a newer disease to the United States. Because of that, there is no current natural immunity for our Northern California pets to fight the virus. All dogs that are exposed to the virus will become infected.

Dogs that travel or will have exposure to dogs from areas with confirmed cases of canine influenza have the highest risk of contracting the disease. Currently there are confirmed cases in 40 states, Washington D.C. and Southern California. The virus has also been reported in Korea, China, and Thailand.

It is important to remember that even if you are not traveling to these areas your dog may still be at risk. Situations like dog shows, agility competitions, and potentially boarding facilities may increase the chances for exposure to dogs from areas with confirmed cases of the flu.

Is there a flu vaccine for my dog: Yes, currently there is a vaccine available to dogs that are at risk for contracting the flu. The vaccine is given as a 2 vaccine series (one initial vaccine followed by a booster vaccine). Currently, the vaccine is offered as a lifestyle vaccine. If you feel your dog has an exposure risk to canine influenza discuss the vaccine with a veterinarian. Also, if you use a boarding facility regularly it is important to contact them to see if their vaccine requirements have changed. Boarding facilities can change their vaccine requirements at their discretion, so it is important to see if they will require the flu vaccine before you take your dog there.

Are other species at risk for catching the Canine Flu: Currently, one strain of the virus has been reported to infect cats. And there is evidence to support that guinea pigs and ferrets may also be infected by the virus. Cats that are infected with the virus may have nasal discharge, congestion, excessive salivation, lethargy, and other symptoms of upper respiratory disease. Once a cat has been exposed to the virus it is possible for the cat to spread the virus to another cat.

The virus cannot be passed to humans. But it is important to remember that people can be “objects” that spread the virus from dog to dog.

What should I do if I think my dog has the flu: If your dog is showing symptoms of canine influenza call our Walnut Creek veterinary office immediately to discuss the symptoms you are seeing at home. In very mild cases of the flu the symptoms may resemble kennel cough (a different contagious cough). After discussing your dog’s symptoms we will direct you further on how to obtain the proper treatment. Because this virus is so contagious, we ask that you call first before coming to the hospital. In cases where a patient is severely ill, we may refer to a facility that can provide appropriate 24 hour care.

We appreciate that it is disconcerting to learn that there is a risk of your pet contracting Canine Influenza in Northern California. Please do contact us directly if you have questions or concerns.