Dr. Bob Encinosa
Last month you may have heard on the national news about a viral outbreak of canine influenza in the Chicago area. Many boarding facilities, doggy daycares and dog parks in the region were temporarily closed to control the situation. This is a different strain of canine flu than the one first identified in greyhounds at a racetrack in Florida in 2004. So how does this strain of canine flu affect the Tampa Bay Area and what do we need to be aware of to protect our pets?
Canine Influenza (CI, or dog flu) in the U.S. is caused by the canine influenza virus (CIV), an influenza A Virus. It is highly contagious and easily spread from infected dogs to other dogs through direct contact, nasal secretions (through coughing and sneezing), contaminated objects ( food and water bowls, collars and leashes), and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs of any breed, age, sex, or health status are at risk of infection when exposed to the virus.
Unlike seasonal flu in people, canine influenza can occur year round. So far, there is no evidence that canine influenza infects people. However, it does appear that at least some strains of the disease can infect cats. CIV infection resembles canine infectious tracheobronchitis (“kennel cough”). The illness may be mild or severe, and infected dogs develop a persistent cough and may develop a thick nasal discharge and fever. Other signs can include lethargy, eye discharge, reduced appetite, and low-grade fever. Most dogs recover within 2-3 weeks. However, secondary bacterial infections can develop and may cause more severe illness and pneumonia.
CIV can be diagnosed early in the illness (less than 4 days) by testing a nasal or throat swab. Dogs are most contagious during the two – to – four day incubation period for the virus, when they are infected and shedding the virus in their nasal secretions but are not showing signs of illness. Almost all dogs exposed to CIV will become infected and the majority (80%) of infected dogs develop flu-like illness. With proper veterinary treatment the mortality (death rate) is low (less than 10%).
It is not known whether the currently available influenza vaccine will protect dogs against this new strain of virus. Avoidance of exposure to potentially infected dogs is the best means of prevention at the present time. Most disinfectants will kill the virus. The virus can survive only a short time on external surfaces.
To our knowledge, the virus has yet to be identified in the Tampa Bay area. Thus, in our area, at this time, we do not consider the canine flu vaccine a necessary “core “vaccine. At our boarding facility we do not currently require the canine flu vaccination. But of course that thought could change if a case is reported in our immediate area.