If you’ve been watching or reading the news at all since mid-March, you’ve no doubt heard about the new strain of canine flu that’s been infecting dogs throughout the Midwestern states of Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There have been headlines that stated that thousands of dogs have been sickened, that dogs have died from this new strain, and still other headlines have offered tips on keeping your dog protected.
It’s all a little confusing, and maybe even a little frightening, too. You may even be wondering if your dog can get it, how bad this new strain actually is, and if there are steps you can take to keep your furry friend safe. We’ll break down the 2015 dog flu outbreak and hopefully give you a little peace of mind.
What Exactly is Dog Flu?
The viruses that cause dog flu are known Influenza Type A (strains H3N2 and H3N8). The canine flu has an effect on the respiratory system of dogs and is considered highly contagious. It is generally spread much in the same way as human influenza, through sneezing, coughing, and even through a runny nose.
According to the CDC, “the canine influenza H3N8 virus originate in horses, has spread to dogs, and can now spread between dogs … it is now considered a dog-specific H3N8 virus” (Source).
The H3N2 strain “is an avian flu virus that adapted to infect dogs, and is different from the human viruses” (Source). This strain was first reported in South Korea back in 2007, and was first found here in the United States this month (April 2015).
What You Should Know
According to PetMD, “dogs that are infected with the canine influenza virus may develop two different syndromes, mild or severe” (Source).
Dog Flu Syndromes & Symptoms
While there are only two ways a dog may develop the canine flu, good attention should be given to both.
- Mild: Dogs who have a mild case of the flu may experience “a cough that is typically moist and can have nasal discharge. Occasionally, it can be more of a dry cough. In most cases, the symptoms will last 10-30 days and will usually go away on their own” (Source).
- Severe: Dogs who have a more severe case of the flu may experience “a high fever (above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and develop signs very quickly. Pneumonia (specifically hemorrhagic pneumonia) can develop. The virus affected capillaries in the lungs, so the dog may cough up blood and have trouble breathing” (Source).
The general symptoms of the canine flu include sneezing, coughing, fever, anorexia and lack of appetite, and lethargy. Affected dogs may also show signs of a runny nose and red eyes as well.
Dogs can get colds just like humans can, so if your pet is exhibiting a runny nose or bouts of lethargy, it may not mean the canine flu is present. However, if you’re worried and these symptoms don’t go away, it’s always a good idea to see your veterinarian.
How Do I Know if My Dog Has Canine Flu?
Keeping an eye on your dog’s behavior is key. Is he or she exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above? If the answer is yes, and things don’t improve, the best idea is to see your veterinarian.
There is a test that can be done, if it’s found to be necessary. A physical is done, but so is a complete blood count. For the canine flu, “increases are seen in the white blood cells, specifically neutrophils, a white blood cell that is destructive to microorganisms. X-rays can be taken of the dog’s lungs to characterize the type of pneumonia (if present)” (Source).
This blood test is all that is needed to make an informed diagnosis. You might want to know which strain your dog has, but doing so is difficult. A simple blood panel can offer a concrete diagnosis.
How is Canine Flu Treated?
Similar to the flu that affects humans, the milder form of dog flu typically goes away on its own in 5 to 7 days. According to the ASPCA, “there is no specific antiviral medication available … supportive care and appropriate treatment of secondary infections are important” (Source).
The ASPCA offers some tips for supportive care, which are below (Source):
- Good nutrition and supplements to help raise immunity and support gut health
- A warm, quiet, and comfortable area to rest in
- If needed, medications to help address secondary bacterial infections
- Intravenous fluids to maintain proper hydration
Do I Need to Worry?
While the frightening (and many times, misleading) headlines about the current outbreak are seemingly everywhere, there’s little need to worry as much as the media may be telling you to.
According to Will Falconer, a holistic veterinarian, “…the death toll is now a whopping five or six dogs, which you discover when you read the opening sentence” (Source) of most articles. (If you’d like to read his article in its entirety, you can find it here.) Purdue University has also stated that “the percent of dogs with the disease that die is very small. Eighty percent of infected dogs will have a mild form of the virus” (Source).
While it may be true that the canine flu virus is “highly contagious,” all that really means is that it spreads easily. So, yes, your dog may catch it, but he or she may not. The largest affected populations exist in kennels and shelters. If your dog is simply out in the open air, there’s much less of a chance of contracting the virus.
There is a vaccine available for dog flu, but many dog owners forego this option, unless it is absolutely needed. A group at Cornell University found that “it is not known if the current vaccine will provide any protection from this new virus” (Source). Whether you choose to get your dog vaccinated is entirely your choice, and it’s always a good idea to fully weigh the options before making a final decision.
The Bottom Line
While this newest canine flu outbreak may seem scary, it can be less so once you understand the virus itself. Dog flu, in many cases, may subside on its own, but if your dog has more severe symptoms or develops pneumonia, hospitalization may become necessary.
We want your furry friends to be healthy just as much as you do. Keep an eye on their behavior and health, and if you’re looking for natural supplements to support their health, we’ve got plenty here at NHC.
Has your favorite pup ever gotten canine flu? How are you keeping your dogs protected and supported? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment below!