With the flu season underway, human individuals across the nation are sniffling, sneezing, coughing, achy and miserable. Pet owners welcome the warming snuggles when their dogs or cats offer comforting support. This can compound the flu sufferer's stress, however, when concerns for the pet's health come to mind. Can pets contract the flu? Do they catch it from their humans? Find out the answers to these questions and learn what you need to know about how influenza viruses affect dogs and cats.
Same Label, Different Virus
Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a type A influenza virus. There are currently two strains of dog flu, which are H3N8 and H3N2. The former originated in the equine community and later mutated to affect dogs. The latter is an avian flu that mutated into a canine flu. H3N2 cases have also been reported in some cats that were exposed to infected dogs and cats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been no evidence to indicate that you can contract H3N2 from your infected pet. One of the human strains of influenza virus is labeled H3N2. Although the route of transmission and some of the symptoms are similar, it is not the same strain as the dog flu H3N2 virus.
Transmission of Dog Flu
Unlike the human flu, dog flu is not seasonal in nature and can affect pets at any time. Like the human flu, the dog flu virus is an airborne contagion. The virus is shed into the environment when an infected dog sneezes, coughs or barks. Other dogs then inhale the aerosolized contaminant to become infected. Dogs can also contract the virus through direct contact with surfaces, feeding bowls, leashes and other objects that have been contaminated by an infected dog. Humans who have had direct contact by handling and caring for an infected dog can also spread the virus to another dog. The incubation period from initial exposure is between two and four days. Dogs with H3N8 are contagious for 10 days, and dogs with H3N2 are contagious for up to 26 days, according to the American Kennel Club.
Symptoms of Dog Flu
Although 20 percent of dogs that are infected with dog flu remain asymptomatic, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the majority of cases will exhibit signs of illness. Whether or not an infected pet exhibits symptoms of dog flu, the pet is still contagious and can spread the illness to other pets. The symptoms of dog flu include the following:
- Nasal discharge
- Ocular discharge
- Decrease in appetite
Cats who contract the H3N2 virus experience nasal discharge, congestion, signs of nausea and general malaise. If your pet is showing any symptoms of illness, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for an examination and treatment.
Treatment and Prognosis of Dog Flu
Treatment for dog flu begins with isolation from other dogs and, in the case of H3N2, cats. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. Symptomatic treatment, such as medications to relieve coughing and reduce fever, may be administered. If your pet is dehydrated, fluid therapy will be necessary. In severe cases, respiratory treatments, such as nebulization, coupage and oxygen therapy will be implemented. According to the AVMA, most infected dogs recover from the illness in two to three weeks, and the mortality rate is less than 10 percent. Sandra Newbury, who is a clinical assistant professor and the director of the University of Wisconsin's shelter medicine program, reports that when cats have been infected with the H3N2 virus, symptoms cleared up quickly, and the illness has not been fatal thus far.
Prevention of Dog Flu
The best way to prevent dog flu in your pets is to avoid their exposure to other pets and by keeping them out of public areas. If your pet has contracted dog flu, keep him isolated from other pets in your household. Disinfect all objects and surfaces to which your pet is exposed, launder the pet's bedding and any linens in the room, and wash your hands thoroughly immediately after handling your sick pet. You should also wear a barrier gown when caring for your sick pet to minimize contamination of your clothes.
There are vaccines available for both canine influenza viruses H3N8 and H3N2. In accordance with vaccination guidelines set forth by the American Animal Hospital Association, these vaccines are not deemed part of the core vaccination protocol. Vaccination against these viruses are administered on the basis of each individual patient's lifestyle and risk factors, which include the following:
- Dogs who frequent dog parks, boarding kennels, doggy day care, grooming parlors and other public settings where dogs are in close proximity to one another
- Dogs who reside in geographical areas where these flu viruses have been reported
The vaccines are initially administered in two doses, three weeks apart, and then they are administered once annually after that. You should allow for period of two weeks in between completion of the initial vaccination series and a planned event in which your dog will be exposed to other dogs. The canine flu vaccines are for dogs only and have not been approved for use in cats.
With flu viruses constantly mutating and adapting, it is not impossible for your pet to catch the human flu from you. However, the chances of this happening are extremely low. If you're suffering with the flu and your furry friend wants to offer you some tender loving care, you don't need to turn his therapeutic cuddles away. Contact a vet, such as Phoenixville Animal Hospital - R B Wolstenholme DVM, for more help.