So far, more than 1,100 dogs in the Midwest have fallen victim to a new influenza virus that originated in Chicago. In the past, canines were affected by a strain known as H3N8. However, according to researchers from Cornell University, the recent outbreak is associated with a strain that likely arrived from Asia and is known as Influenza A-H3N2. The virus can also affect cats, but not humans. The strain is not the H1N1 Asian flu or the H5N2 bird flu, which entered the U.S. via migratory birds. Nevertheless, the H5N2 and H3N8 flu viruses are still annual problems.
From Chicago, the H3N2 virus soon spread to Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Scientists warn that current test methods frequently used to detect canine influenza cannot yet detect H3N2, which leaves researchers concerned that the outbreak may be more extensive than is presently known. They are also unsure how much protection current canine flu vaccinations will offer against the new strain.
Advice for Dog Owners
Researchers recommend that all dog owners throughout the Midwest use precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of their pets. Animals can carry the virus without showing any visible signs of illness. Though humans cannot become ill from H3N2, people can transmit the virus from one animal to the next. People must wash their hands before touching their own canine companion if having contact with another animal outside of the home. Especially in affected areas, if at all possible, resist doggie daycare, kennel boarding or visits to a dog park.
Flu vaccinations are available through a local veterinarian. Researchers recommend that dogs receive vaccinations. The process involves two injections scheduled two to four weeks apart. Boosters are then given every year after. While the vaccination does not prevent dogs from acquiring the virus or becoming ill, a specialist from Chester Valley Veterinary Hospital says it can reduce the severity of symptoms. Dogs considered at high risk now are pets living in states known to have any canine virus. Not unlike humans, animals having compromised immune systems and cardiovascular or respiratory problems are at increased risk for becoming seriously ill.
H3N2 symptoms are similar to kennel cough. An ailing pet may develop a hacking, gagging dry cough with or without nasals congestion or drainage. Pets may also suffer appetite loss and run low to high-grade fevers. Symptoms can last from one to three weeks. The majority of pets survive the illness without long-lasting effects. If a dog becomes ill, keep the pet warm, dry, and well-hydrated.