As if we humans don’t have enough to worry about with the soaring flu cases, our best friends on four legs are now ailing.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, canine influenza, known as dog flu, is a highly contagious viral infection affecting dogs and also cats. Though not widespread, it’s increasing among the pet population this season, including in Florida.
In addition to the state’s 20 or so cases since December, multiple strains of dog flu have circulated in dog parks across several states, including Arkansas, the Carolinas, Missouri, Colorado, Washington and California, reports Today.
Dogs and cats can show similar symptoms to ours. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny noses, fever and lethargy. Dog owners should call their vets if they see these signs and keep their pet away from other animals until they are treated. Cats will also exhibit upper respiratory issues and may tip us off through lip smacking and excessive salivation.
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The cause is the H3N2 virus, which was first detected in the United States in 2015. Ten years earlier, the virus was found in birds in Asia, and then the avian virus infected dogs.
But it’s not the same H3N1 virus that causes influenza in people. You can’t get the flu from your dog or your cat, and you can’t give it to your pet.
H3N8 is another strain of canine influenza first seen in North America in 2000, but today it’s quite rare, says Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which tracks dog flu cases in the U.S. Thousands of dogs have been infected.
The virus is most commonly transmitted by coughing and sneezing dogs, which can spread germs up to 20 feet. This proximity makes places like dog parks, kennels and dog grooming parlors common sources of infection. Most dogs exposed to the virus will become infected, but only 80 percent will show symptoms, which start showing up two to three days after exposure to the virus. The most common symptom is a cough that can last up to three weeks, despite treatment with antibiotics, according to the AVMA.
Dog and cat flu is rarely fatal, but your pet may feel miserable for awhile. As with humans, there is a vaccine for H3N2 for dogs, administered through your veterinarian. But a vaccine has yet to be approved for cat influenza. Dogs and cats can also be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and fluids to maintain hydration until the flu passes.
The AVMA recommends these prevention and control tips:
▪ Veterinary, boarding, and shelter facilities should be kept clean. The canine influenza virus is easily killed by disinfectants commonly used in those facilities.
▪ Vet employees should wash their hands regularly with soap and water. We can’t give dogs and cats our flu, but we can transmit their infected saliva and drool to other pets we touch when handling multiple animals.
▪ Dogs should be isolated if they show clinical signs of respiratory disease. If your dog is sneezing or coughing, his or her appearance at a dog show, grooming session, dog park or training class is a no-no. Your dog can be communicable for a month.
▪ Clean and disinfect all clothing, equipment, surfaces and hands after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease.
▪ The vaccine is not applicable for every dog. Your vet can give you guidance and suggest a suitable treatment if your pet has the flu.