Following the confirmation of several canine influenza cases in Florida, veterinarians are cautioning dog owners to be wary of the symptoms and take the necessary precautions to shield their beloved animal companions from contracting the virus.
The H3N2 canine influenza virus — H3N2 CIV — is most commonly transmitted by coughing and sneezing dogs, which can spread their germs up to 20 feet.
Because dogs have no natural immunity to the flu and the virus can live up to 24 hours, the animals can become infected just by being in the same area where a sick dog passed through, such as a dog park or grooming parlor.
Keep Your Dog Away From Public Places
Nearly all dogs exposed to the virus become infected, but only 80 percent show symptoms. Although asymptomatic, the remaining 20 percent can still transmit the flu virus, which has also been shown to spread to cats.
The American Veterinary Medical Association points out outbreaks typically occur in places where pets are in close contact, such as kennels and grooming parlors.
"Because this is still an emerging pathogen, all dogs, regardless of breed or age, are susceptible to infection and have no naturally acquired or vaccine-induced immunity when first exposed to the virus. If the virus enters a kennel or other closed group, a high percentage of the dogs may become infected, and most of these dogs will be symptomatic," notes the AVMA.
The American Kennel Club also advises dog owners to avoid taking their pets for a walk in crowded dog parks.
"The best way to prevent your dog from contracting the dog flu is to keep him away from public places or kennels with recently reported cases of dog flu," states the AKC.
In case you come into contact with an animal suspected of having the dog flu, wash your hands, arms, and clothing before touching your own dog to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to your pet.
If you have more than one canine companion and one of your dogs has caught the H3N2 virus, there is a high chance the others will also become infected. This is why the AVMA recommends that sick dogs be kept separate from other animals.
Ask About Dog Flu Vaccines
Another way to prevent infection is to ask the vet if your dog can benefit from the H3N2 vaccine.
The dog flu vaccine is typically recommended according to how active your dog is, if the animal regularly spends time in kennels, or if you live in an area with a high incidence of dog flu.
If your dog has a high risk of contracting canine influenza, your veterinarian may recommend the H3N2 vaccine as a precaution.
"The canine influenza vaccine is a 'lifestyle' vaccine, and is not recommended for every dog. In general, the vaccine is intended for the protection of dogs at risk for exposure to the canine influenza virus, which include those that either participate in activities with many other dogs or are housed in communal facilities, particularly where the virus is prevalent," explains the AVMA.
If your canine best friend has already been vaccinated against a kennel cough (Bordetella/parainfluenza), then your dog may also be eligible for the H3N2 vaccine since the risk groups are similar for both viral strains, notes the AVMA.